CN Rail union mulls strike; Ottawa urges arbitration

Fri Mar 21, 2014 2:27pm EDT
 
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By Solarina Ho

TORONTO (Reuters) - Leaders of the union representing 3,000 conductors, yard workers, and traffic coordinators at Canadian National Railway Co will meet on Friday to decide whether to strike or take other action after union members narrowly rejected a second tentative contract deal with Canada's biggest railway.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said in a statement that it still has a valid strike mandate and added that its leaders will meet with counsel to decide on its next move.

Canada's labor minister, Kellie Leitch, urged CN Rail and union leaders on Friday to seek voluntary arbitration to avert a strike, which she said would damage the economy.

The Teamsters union said on Thursday that its members had rejected the latest agreement by a 51.1 percent margin. The deal was reached last month after the government said it would use back-to-work legislation if necessary to keep the railway operating.

The dispute comes as CN Rail struggles to move 5,500 cars of grain a week to cope with a massive backlog from a record-shattering harvest in 2013. The backlog has been exacerbated by transport disruptions caused by an extremely cold winter.

Montreal-based CN Rail said it would like to settle unresolved issues through final binding arbitration, a process in which an arbitrator decides the final terms of the contract, and requested a union response by the end of Friday's business day.

"CN hopes the union will accept its offer, given that the company's recovery from an extraordinarily tough winter is in its early stages," said CN spokesman Mark Hallman, calling the offer "reasonable".

The union said that government interference has made it difficult to resolve the conflict.   Continued...

 
Canada's Minister of Labour and Status of Women Kellie Leitch speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa February 27, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie