Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are Labour troubles coming down the tracks at CN?

"After 14 months of trying to bargain new agreements with the union, we concluded further talks would not result in a settlement," -- CN Spokesman Mark Hallman outlining the breaking point in negotiations with the Teamsters Rail Conference.

"We are very disappointed that CN has declined to continue negotiations as it appears they want to force federal government intervention without having to negotiate," said Daniel Shewchuk, TCRC president, offering up the counter point to CN's talking point.

The Port of Prince Rupert will be keeping a close eye on the Business pages for the next little while, that as labour talks between Canadian National and it's locomotive engineers take a turn for the worse.

With negotiations at what CN calls a standstill, the national railroad pushed away from the negotiating table this week and decided the time had come to impose it's own vision of a labour agreement. Offering regrets, the railway outlined its plans with a news release from its Montreal headquarters.

It's a move that could see the railroad behind a picket line by this weekend, as members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference contemplate their next action amid some rather militant talk from their membership.

The Teamsters have been without a contract since December 31 of 2008 and have expressed their disappointment at what they perceive is an attempt by the railroad to force federal government intervention without having to negotiate. They outlined that disappointment with a press release issued on Monday, offering up the prospect of making a complaint of Bad Faith bargaining against CN.

The most recent talks were conducted with the help of a federal mediator, but as the sticking points became hard to move beyond, CN decided that there was no more progress to be made and decided to put in place their own contract.

CN intends to put in place a 1.5 per cent wage increase for its engineers and to bring their mileage caps in line with the conductors as of Nov. 28. The gap between conductors and engineers was one of CN's major concerns, the railway had offered to take the issue to binding arbitration but that idea was rejected by the union.

CN's 1700 engineers make an average of average $90,000 a year, working on average 15 to 17 days a month compared with the 16 to 18 days which the conductors work.

The prospect of a labour dispute on the railroad could have major implications for the Port of Prince Rupert, with CN providing the sole transportation link from Ridley Terminals and the Fairview Container Port. Any long term work stoppage could bring some down time for local workers at the Grain elevator, coal terminal and container port.

While the Port could most likely weather a short term disruption, any lengthy dispute could steer away cargo shipments to Vancouver where CP rail also provides service or to American ports.

With the competitive nature of international shipping, reliability of delivery time lines is the major selling point and if the Port of Prince Rupert finds itself idled by any potential rail strike for a length of time, it may take more work later on to rebuild it's brand and reliability optics.

National Post-- CN to impose contract changes after talks hit impasse
Bloomberg news-- Canadian National Railway May Face Strike on Weekend, Post Says
Wall Street Journal-- CN Railway To Implement Wage Increase For Engineers
Journal of Commerce online-- CN Imposes Wage, Work Terms on Union
Update: November 25, 1 PM--CN issued a press release on Wednesday morning advising that the TCRC had indeed issued a 72 hour strike notice, labour action against the railroad could take effect at 1 minute after midnight on Saturday, November 28th.
Update: November 25, 2 PM-- Reuters news services reports that CN and the TCRC will meet for negotiations on Friday, one day before the locomotive engineers will be in a legal strike position.

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