By Susan Taylor
TORONTO Feb 5 Canadian National Railway Co
reached a deal on Wednesday to avert a strike by
conductors and yard workers after the Conservative government
said it would use back-to-work legislation to keep the country's
biggest railway operating.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference gave notice earlier in
the day that it intended to strike as soon as Saturday after
members voted against a tentative agreement with Canada's
biggest rail operator.
A new three-year agreement is a modification of the
tentative pact reached in October, union general chairman Roland
"I'm glad there's not going to be a strike," he said,
shortly after the deal was reached. He said no details would be
released until the deal is ratified.
A work stoppage by about 3,000 conductors, train and yard
workers would have disrupted a vast cross-country network that
ships goods ranging from lumber and crude oil to grains and
Kellie Leitch, the country's labor minister, had said at a
press conference in Ottawa that the government was preparing
back-to-work legislation to "protect Canada's economy and
Canadian grain farmers."
The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper,
have been quick to intervene in recent years to avoid major
labor disruptions. In 2012, it legislated striking workers back
to work at both CN rival Canadian Pacific Railway (CP)
and Air Canada.
The swift government response came after the union told
Reuters that CN said in a morning meeting it was "done
negotiating" and workers must choose between an existing labor
deal and walking off the job.
The union said its conductors, train and yard workers had
voted down a tentative pact, negotiated in October, due to deep
distrust of the railway because it didn't respect provisions for
Members were angry that they are being made to work 12-hour
shifts, despite asking to be relieved after 10 hours, Hackl had
said, calling it a safety issue.
The union said that CN tried, but failed, to remove
contractual rest periods from the agreement in talks last year.
Following that, rest violations multiplied, the union said in a
letter to CN, in many cases by 300 to 400 percent.
Montreal-based CN has said that extreme winter weather
conditions have hampered normal operations and that it complies
with statutory rest provisions.
Any service disruption would have exacerbated a severe
backlog in moving western crops to ports that has racked up
shipping penalties for grain handlers and left farmers with few
buyers. [ID: nL2N0JS13T]
Record wheat and canola harvests have overwhelmed CN and CP,
resulting in a combined backlog of some 40,000 grain hopper
A walkout would also have affected crude oil being shipped
by rail, which has surged over the last few years as oil
production exceeds pipeline capacity.
CN said it shipped nearly 25,000 carloads of crude in its
recently reported fourth quarter and 75,000 for the full year.
CP also shipped 25,000 carloads of crude in that quarter,
and 90,000 carloads for the year.
Extreme cold and heavy snowfalls have already hampered
operations this winter. CN issued a cold weather advisory for
western Canada on Tuesday, saying that it was running shorter
trains in the hardest-hit areas and detouring where required.
The labor dispute as rail safety is under scrutiny in Canada
and the United States, following a series of derailments across
the continent that have caused deaths and evacuations due to oil
spills and fires.
Most notably, a runaway train carrying crude exploded last
summer in Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.
Last month, CN said its railroad's safety record in 2013
improved 9 percent, even as it dealt with a series of
high-profile derailments, including two in New Brunswick in
January. One train caught fire and burned for days.
CN shares ended 11 Canadian cents higher at C$59.43 on the
Toronto Stock Exchange.