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Tentative deal reached with conductors, CN says

Canadian National Railway (CN) expects to have three years of labour peace with its conductors, traffic co-ordinators and yardmen once they ratify a tentative deal reached Friday.

CN and the 2,700 unionized workers, represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), had been in talks on and off since the expiry of their last collective agreement in July. Discussions until now had stalled to the point where the union or CN could launch a walkout or lockout, respectively, with 72 hours’ notice.

CN, in a release late Friday, said details of its new three-year contracts with the TCRC’s conductors, trainmen and yardmen (CTY) group would not be released until after the workers voted to ratify the agreement.

Montreal-based CN and the Teamsters had been in talks earlier in the week with federal mediator Jacques Lessard, which the TCRC on Monday described as “last-chance meetings.”

The company and union had also met in August with federal conciliator Michael Bendel who, in a Sept. 5 report to federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, described the relationship between the railway and the Teamsters as “dysfunctional.”

CN didn’t say Friday what led to a tentative deal, but had said earlier in the week that it would accept a three-year “status quo” deal with no changes from the previous agreement other than certain “non-contentious” issues.

Under a “status quo” deal, all other contentious issues, such as crew scheduling and work rules, would be deferred.

“Only one issue”

However, in a letter to CN CEO Claude Mongeau, dated Friday and posted on the union’s website, the members of TCRC’s national CTY negotiating committee said their proposals on staff scheduling are “an attempt to restore the actual status quo.

“With respect to scheduling, we have come a long way,” the Teamsters committee wrote. “There is only one issue that remains a difficulty.”

According to the committee, CN had agreed in talks to set up rules regarding ordering of assignments at an employee’s home terminal, but as yet “there are no provisions to order them at the (away)-from-home terminal in a timely manner,” which could see crews “languish” at away terminals for 12, 24 or more hours before being ordered home.

“All the union is seeking is to have regular hours, at the home and away-from-home termninal, as the company promised the government, for assigned crews so that they can be properly rested,” the TCRC committee wrote. “This is the way assignments operated previously and the way they should be operated.”

And that, the committee wrote Friday, “is the issue that is standing in the way of a national agreement that we believe our members would ratify. We realize that you (Mongeau) did not create this problem, you inherited it. We are asking you to fix it.”

Fearing the “immediate and damaging effects” to rail-reliant Prairie grain exports if another labour disruption took place on CN track, the Grain Growers of Canada had written earlier this week to Raitt, urging her to legislate the CN employees back to work if need be.

CN’s engineers, also represented by the TCRC, had gone on strike Nov. 28 last year but reached an agreement with CN Dec. 2, after Rona Ambrose, the labour minister at that time, announced plans Nov. 30 to introduce back-to-work legislation.

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