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Repair, inspection staff at CN prep for strike vote

(Photo courtesy CN)

Locomotive and rail car maintenance, repair and inspection staff at Canadian National Railway (CN) plan to take a strike vote early next week, their union said Thursday.

Unifor, the largest union at CN with over 4,800 members, said Thursday it will hold the vote over a period of up to three weeks, and would set a strike deadline close to the end of March to allow CN customers to make “alternative arrangements” for their shipments.

The union’s decision follows a tentative agreement last weekend for Unifor-represented staff at Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) — and an agreement on binding arbitration between CP and its Teamster-represented engineers and conductors, the latter under threat of federal back-to-work legislation.

“CN is trying to get a discounted settlement, by counting on the (federal) government to cut off collective bargaining with back-to-work legislation,” Unifor president Jerry Dias said in a release Thursday.

“CN is highly profitable, even more so than CP Rail, yet somehow it is claiming it cannot meet the pattern agreement that we established at CP.”

Unifor, whose previous collective agreement with CN expired Dec. 31, said its decision follows “five months of futile negotiations” toward a new agreement.

The decision also comes after CN said Wednesday it will implement “targeted work rule changes” for Unifor-represented staff starting Friday.

CN CEO Claude Mongeau said the company would “modify some terms of the Unifor collective agreements, as permitted by the Canada Labour Code at this stage of the bargaining process,” and would increase Unifor members’ wages by two per cent.

“While CN has signed agreements with higher wage patterns, those were reached before the economy started softening and reflected the value to CN of deals reached amicably, without the threat of disruption or potential strike action,” CN said Wednesday.

“Issue of principle”

CN also said a “key stumbling block” toward a new deal is Unifor’s condition that CN contribute cash to what the company described as a “political and community action fund.”

CN said Wednesday it’s “not prepared to allow such a union agenda to take precedence over the interests of its employees.”

Dias, in a separate release Wednesday, said its Canadian Community Fund is “part of a long history of making gains at the bargaining table that are shared in the community… CP (in its agreement) understood the value of this fund; it’s unfortunate that CN does not see this opportunity.”

The fund, backed by a five-cent-per-hour, per-member contribution, is part of a “larger collective bargaining package which also includes funding for women’s advocates who help women facing violence and paid leave for skilled trades members to participate in relief efforts, conduct repairs at local women’s shelters or other similar work,” Unifor said.

For CN, Dias said, 2014 was its “best year ever” with after-tax net income of $3.2 billion, up by over $500 million from 2013. “If we can establish this fund at CP, we can do the same at CN.”

“This is an issue of principle for us,” Mongeau said Wednesday. “CN is prepared to co-invest in charitable causes, but we are not prepared to support such a union agenda.” — Network

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