Canadian National Railway hopes to be back on track by Christmas: senior official

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian National Railway Co hopes to recover from the effects of the country’s biggest rail strike in a decade before Christmas, and would even look at bringing back recently cut crews and locomotives, a senior official said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Trains are seen in the yard at the CN Rail Brampton Intermodal Terminal in Brampton, Ontario, Canada November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo

The eight-day strike by some 3,200 conductors and yard workers at Canada’s largest railway delayed shipments of grain, propane and other goods.

The stoppage over demands for improved working conditions and rest breaks ended on Tuesday as the company reached a tentative agreement with the Teamsters union.

“Hopefully sometime before Christmas we’ll be back where we should be,” Sean Finn, CN’s senior vice-president and chief legal officer, told Reuters, adding CN’s network was operating at about 10% of its capacity during the strike.

Some customers, Finn noted, likely “won’t see a difference immediately,” but he said the railway was working to catch up as quickly as possible.

Canada relies on CN and Canadian Pacific Railway to move products like crops, oil, potash, coal and other manufactured goods to ports and the United States.

Prior to the strike, CN said it had cut management and union jobs as it grapples with an economic slowdown. Finn said Thursday the company was considering bringing back crews and locomotives in the wake of the strike.

“We’re looking at that,” he said. “Anything we can do to accelerate the recovery, we’ll do so.”

The CN strike sparked national attention over worker fatigue, after the Teamsters released a recording of an exhausted rail worker pleading with a CN supervisor for a break after a 10-hour shift.

As part of the pending agreement, CN will waive the "work-now-grieve-later principle," under which workers were told to stay on the job and only contest any alleged break violations through the filing of a grievance, a source familiar with the matter said, confirming an earlier report by the Winnipeg Free Press. (

Union members should vote on the deal within eight weeks.

Finn declined to comment on the agreement’s details, citing confidentiality. A spokesman for Teamsters Canada was not immediately available for comment.

CN announced late Thursday that Kim Madigan, the company’s senior vice-president of human resources, would be retiring at the end of this year. Asked about the 20-year veteran’s departure, Finn said Madigan’s retirement was not tied to the strike.

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa, additional reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru and Allison Lampert in Montreal; editing by Tom Brown and Richard Pullin