(Adds union statement, CN Rail comment, background details)
By Solarina Ho
TORONTO, March 21 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
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
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
"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
The union said that government interference has made it
difficult to resolve the conflict.
"CN knows that there is no real fear of a work stoppage
because the government will step in, so the outstanding issues
never get resolved," the Teamsters said, calling the failed
ratification "not overly surprising".
The union had previously said the first vote failed because
workers were unhappy that CN was not respecting contractual rest
provisions, an issue it called one of worker safety.
Union representatives could not immediately be reached on
Friday for comment, but said in the statement that CN had been
"violating the collective agreement ... since the first
tentative settlement was reached back in October and long before
CN's Hallman declined to comment on the charge.
Labour Minister Leitch said she was "disappointed" by the
"I urge both parties to consider the best interests of all
Canadians and avoid a work stoppage by sending their outstanding
issues to voluntary arbitration," she said in a statement.
"A work stoppage at CN would have damaging effects on our
economy - negatively impacting hardworking Canadians across the
country, including grain farmers in the Prairies, auto workers
in Ontario, and forestry workers in Quebec."
(Additional reporting by Louise Egan in Ottawa; Editing by
Sophie Hares; and Peter Galloway)