Deal reached to avert strike at Canadian Rail

MONTREAL/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian National Railway Co on Monday said it had reached a tentative agreement with a union representing 3,000 conductors, ahead of a looming strike deadline at Canada’s largest railroad.

FILE PHOTO: A Canadian National Railway train travels eastward on a track in Montreal, February 15, 2015. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

The union had set a strike deadline of Tuesday at 4 a.m. EDT (0800 GMT) after the railroad announced new work rules during negotiations to replace an expired contract.

The details of the deal were being withheld pending ratification by Teamsters Canada Rail Conference members, CN said. The ratification process takes about 60 days.

“CN is very pleased to have reached this settlement with Teamsters Canada Rail Conference – Conductors, Trainpersons and Yardpersons without a service disruption,” CN Chief Operating Officer Mike Cory said in a statement.

Teamsters Canada Rail Conference President Doug Finnson earlier confirmed that an agreement in principle had been reached between the two parties to avert strike at Canadian Rail.

The stoppage would have been be the first strike by CN conductors, or train operators, in a decade. Two sources close to the talks had previously reported good progress.

Rail shippers had earlier urged Ottawa to intervene, fearing that a shut-down would immediately damage business.

Freight Management Association of Canada wrote to Labour Minister Patty Hajdu on Sunday asking her to impose binding arbitration to resolve the dispute.

Hajdu, speaking to reporters on Monday, did not respond to questions about whether she was considering legislation to keep trains running during a strike. A federally appointed mediator is assisting in the talks.

“We have every confidence that we’re going to get a deal,” she said.

Canada exports most of the grain, potash and other commodities that it produces, moving them vast distances to ports via CN or Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.

A strike would delay arrival of commodity shipments at port, racking up higher costs, said freight association president Bob Ballantyne on Monday. Retail importers would be affected, along with auto manufacturers who rely on just-in-time parts delivery, he said.

Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Sandra Maler