CN Rail offers new talks with union; Ottawa urges arbitration

Fri Mar 21, 2014 9:27pm EDT
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By Solarina Ho

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian National Railway Co said on Friday that it was prepared to meet one last time with the union representing its conductors, yard workers, and traffic coordinators, if the union agreed to a binding arbitration should talks fail.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC-CTY), which represents about 3,000 CN Rail workers, had no immediate comment on the offer, but said it would discuss the proposal with local representatives and respond on Saturday.

The offer came after union leaders met on Friday to decide whether to strike or take other action after members narrowly rejected a second tentative contract deal with Canada's biggest railway.

"CN is willing to go back to the bargaining table with TCRC-CTY one last time to achieve a fair settlement," the railway's Chief Executive Officer Claude Mongeau said in a statement late on Friday. "But we can only do that if the union commits upfront to binding arbitration in the event our negotiations fail."

It said the union must respond to its offer by Saturday.

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.   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