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TORONTO, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Unifor, a union that represents 4,800 mechanical, clerical and intermodal staff at Canadian National Railway Co, said on Thursday it would not accept government interference in its contract talks with the country's No. 1 railroad operator.
Unifor leaders said on a conference call they would proceed with a vote to strike. The remarks came after CN said Wednesday it would unilaterally change a labor pact covering workers represented by Unifor by Feb. 20, if a new accord wasn't agreed by that time.
"We are not looking for a dispute, but it is clear to us that CN is," Unifor President Jerry Dias said, adding that CN was forcing a stand-off in the hopes that the government would step in to avert a strike and force the two parties into a binding arbitration process.
Dias said Unifor was not going to accept a government settlement, but declined to say what recourse the union would have if the Canadian government uses back-to-work legislation in the event of a strike.
The union said the vote to strike would begin as early as next week and take about three weeks to complete. It plans to set a strike deadline close to the end of March to allow CN customers to make alternative arrangements.
"CN is trying to get a discounted settlement, by counting on the government to cut off collective bargaining with back to work legislation," said Dias. "Companies like CN should not be leaning on government to interfere in collective bargaining."
CN said on Wednesday that it had already offered to submit all outstanding issues to a binding arbitration process. (Reporting by Euan Rocha; Editing by Bernadette Baum)