Tentative deal averts strike at CN

The Canadian Press

MONTREAL—A potential strike now looms only at Canadian Pacific Railway after CN Rail reached a tentative agreement today just hours before 4,000 unionized workers were prepared to walk off the job.
The Canadian Auto Workers reached a deal with the country’s largest railway following a marathon session of negotiations.
“The facts are that CN, following our 72-hour notice, finally started to take the issues seriously,” Bob Chernecki, assistant to CAW president Ken Lewenza, said in an interview.
The union represents 3,400 shopcraft, office, clerical, and mechanical workers at the Montreal-based railway, along with 575 owner-operator truck drivers for CNTL, a CN subsidiary.
“There were a lot of tough issues that we worked our way through and a sheer determination on the part of the bargaining committees to get through it,” Chernecki added.
The union’s collective agreements with CN expired at the end of 2010 and its members voted between 82 and 100 percent in favour of a strike, if necessary.
Details of the agreement are to be released upon ratification, which is slated to begin next week and wrap up within three weeks.
With the leadership of all bargaining committees endorsing the deal, Chernecki doesn’t foresee any challenges to winning an endorsement from members.
“There’s always lots of questions and uncertainty in what we’ve bargained, but I believe once we’ve laid the whole package out, it will be overwhelmingly endorsed,” he noted.
CN Rail spokesman Mark Hallman said the Montreal-based railway was pleased a deal was reached ahead of the strike deadline.
“We’re also particularly pleased with the provisions that would allow us to work in terms of being able to help us retain and attract skilled employees who are gong to be critical to our workforce in the years ahead,” he added.
Chernecki said the provisions include a combination of measures to retain skilled workers and time off the job.
With the threat of a CN strike seemingly in hand, the union now will return its focus to Canadian Pacific, where a potential strike by another union looms Feb. 8.
No labour agreement has been reached with 2,100 mechanical service workers across the country who inspect and repair railcars and locomotives.
The Calgary-based railway said it has trained 1,200 managers as part of a comprehensive contingency plan to fully operate the system should a labour dispute occur.
The company said it has a long history of co-operative labour relations and is optimistic for a negotiated settlement.
But Chernecki said he expects talks will go down to the wire because a change of the labour relations climate at CP.
“CN is always tough in bargaining. I would see CP as a little tougher in terms of their change of attitude recently,” he noted, unwilling to provide details.
Both railways are scheduled to report their fourth-quarter and 2010 results this week.
CN starts tomorrow, followed by CP on Wednesday.