CN Railway, union resume contract talks as lockout deadline nears

Mon Feb 23, 2015 11:03am EST
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By Allison Martell

TORONTO Feb 23 (Reuters) - Canadian National Railway Co and the union representing 4,800 of its mechanical, clerical and trucking staff will resume contract talks on Monday, just hours before a deadline set by Canada's No. 1 railway to lock out the workers.

The Unifor labor union said talks will resume at around 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT), but the two sides have said they are far apart on wages and working conditions.

CN Rail operates freight and some passenger trains on tracks across Canada and the United States. In the worse case, a lockout could spur big disruptions of shipments of grain and other commodities and goods. It also would have threatened commuter train service in the Montreal area but the union and the company announced a deal over the weekend to keep those trains running.

CN declined to comment on the talks on Monday. The company said late on Sunday that while it would return to the bargaining table, it continued to believe that binding arbitration may be the best way to avoid it locking out Unifor employees at 11 p.m EST Monday (0400 GMT Tuesday).

In a strike or lockout, train crews would stay on the job. But Unifor represents the staff that do maintenance work and safety inspections, so service could be affected quickly. A stoppage by CN truck drivers, who haul some goods from West Coast ports to rail lines, would affect imports from Asia.

CN has said it has a contingency plan for a lockout and that trained management will fill in for Unifor members so it can maintain service as much as possible.

The railway carried some 5.6 million carloads of freight in 2014, and it is not clear how much a lockout would delay shipments. Delays would depend on how effectively managers can fill in for Unifor members, especially in moving shipping containers on and off trains, and carrying out maintenance work.

Unifor said it has committed to federal mediators that if CN does lock out Unifor members, the union will not disrupt the Montreal commuter service. (Writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Peter Galloway)