* Company using non-union workers to run trains
* Strike won't affect passenger rail services
* Government says can't accept rail service disruption
(Adds detail on passenger rail services, government comment)
By Janet Guttsman
TORONTO, Nov 28 Locomotive engineers at
Canada's largest railroad walked off the job on Saturday after
talks broke down, but Canadian National Railway (CNR.TO)
(CNI.N) said it was using management and non-union staff to
provide "the best possible service under the circumstances."
CN spokesman Mark Hallman said the strike started overnight
after the breakdown of talks with the Teamsters Union. "We have
deployed our contingency plan," he said.
The engineers have been without a contract since Dec. 31,
2008, and CN unilaterally imposed new work conditions on
Monday, describing that as the only way to break a deadlock.
Dan Shewchuk from the Teamsters Union said that decision
triggered the strike. "We were forced into this position by
CN's dramatic move," he told Reuters.
The Teamsters represent about 1,700 CN engineers in Canada
out of a Canadian work force of more than 15,000.
Hallman declined to say how many trains were running, or
indicate the impact the strike might have on CN results.
Canada's rail network is used heavily by grain shippers and
other exporters of raw materials.
The dispute does not affect CN engineers in the United
States, who work under different contracts. Canadian inter-city
passenger trains and commuter rail services are set to operate
The last strike at CN began in February 2007 when 2,800
conductors and yard-service employees walked off the job. It
ended two months later after the federal government passed
back-to-work legislation, citing the importance of the rail
service to the economy.
Labour Minister Rona Ambrose made clear that could happen
"At a time when our economy is still recovering, our
government will not support a disruption to such a vital
component of Canada's economy," she said in a statement that
urged both sides to accept binding arbitration.
Under the conditions imposed by the company, engineers will
get pay increases of 1.5 percent. But their monthly mileage cap
will rise to 4,300 miles (6,900 km) from 3,800 miles (6,100
km), matching that of the railway's train conductors.
The mileage caps are designed to keep train crews from
being overworked. CN says the 3,800 mile-limit was set decades
ago, in an era of steam locomotives, and a higher limit would
The union said some engineers might have to work seven days
a week with no time off under the new system, which CN said was
(Additional reporting by Susan Taylor and Allan Dowd; Editing
by Peter Cooney)
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