By Euan Rocha
TORONTO Oct 14 Talks between the railroad
workers' union and Canadian National Railway Co have
broken down, raising the possibility of a strike or a lockout by
Oct. 28 at the country's largest railroad operator, the union
said on Monday.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), which
represents some 3,300 conductors, trainmen, yardmen and traffic
coordinators, said the company rejected the union's offer to
extend conciliation talks that ended on Oct. 7.
"We're extremely disappointed by CN's refusal to extend the
mediation period," Roland Hackl, a spokesman for the union, said
in a statement.
The union said the talks have stalled over CN's demands for
concessions that would force workers to work longer hours with
less rest time between trips. Wages and the retirement plan are
not central issues in this bargaining round, the union said.
The union said the company's demands fly in the face of its
statements about safety being a priority.
A CN spokesman said the company does not comment on the
substance of ongoing labor negotiations, but stressed that CN's
bargaining proposals would not in any way compromise the health
and safety of TCRC members.
CN remains optimistic it can negotiate an amicable
settlement with the TCRC to avoid labor disruption in Canada,
the spokesman, Mark Hallman, said in an email.
Hallman also noted that the company has comprehensive safety
programs in place designed to prevent accidents.
Rail safety has become a hot-button issue in Canada this
year after a disaster in July when a runaway tanker train
derailed and exploded in the middle of the small town of
Lac-Megantic, Quebec, causing 47 deaths and hundreds of millions
of dollars in damage.
The accident prompted Canada to toughen its safety standards
for railways earlier this year.
Last May, the Canadian government stepped in to force an end
to a strike that shut down the freight operations of Canada's
No. 2 railroad operator, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd,
as the strike impacted shipments of grain, coal, fertilizer,
autos and other goods.
The strike at CP last year occurred after 4,800 unionized
locomotive engineers, conductors and rail controllers walked off
the job over the company's plan to cut pension payments.
It is unclear whether the federal government would step in
and pass back-to-work legislation if a strike or lockout occurs
at CN Rail.