CN, union ‘deeply suspicious’ of each other in talks

Canada’s largest railway in a position for work stoppage; federal conciliator’s proposals rejected

The union representing 2,700 train conductors and other workers at Canadian National Railway Co Ltd said it was meeting with the company and a government-appointed mediator Wednesday afternoon to discuss a key scheduling issue.

Though both sides have been without a contract since July 22 and are now in position to call a work stoppage with 72 hours’ notice, the Teamsters Rail Conference — the union for CN’s train conductors, yard employees and traffic coordinators — has “no intention of serving any strike notice,” spokesman Bryan Boechler told Reuters.

The union said it was ready to meet as long as CN wanted to continue negotiating.

The sides are having difficulty agreeing on issues such as on-call periods, the elimination of brakemen on trains and expanding work roles for roadmen.

The union wants a 24-hour, seven-day on-call period broken into shorter blocks of time from some workers over the seven days. CN said the proposal still needs some changes, according to Boechler.

The company proposed getting rid of brakemen on trains and yardmen, letting roadmen do the latter’s work and eliminating brakemen from the 30 per cent of trains they work on.

With the two sides unable to reach an agreement, a federal conciliator, Michael Bendel, was called in. Bendel recommended a “status quo” agreement with no work rule changes and improvements to compensation in line with other CN workers. CN was willing to accept the agreement, but the union wanted the conciliator’s term extended until after ratification, to allow for further talks to address health and safety issues. CN refused the condition because it was concerned it could derail ratification and risk a work stoppage in the winter.

The company said it is prepared to accept the three-year status quo agreement, but the union says it is not willing to accept a second consecutive arbitrated settlement that fails to address its safety and health concerns.

Two other proposals were rejected and they had “run out of ideas,” said Bendel in his report.

Bendel concluded in his report that “the relationship between (CN and the union) is dysfunctional” and each side was “deeply suspicious” of the other. Both sides were of the opinion any work stoppage would be resolved quickly by the federal government by back-to-work legislation, said Bendel.

The union said it would not give a strike notice unless the company insists on drastic changes.

CN said it has set up a contingency service plan in case of a work stoppage.

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