Canada’s federal government imposed back-to-work legislation on Monday for 1,700 locomotive engineers at Canadian National Railway (CN), the country’s largest freight operator, who are striking over contract and wage issues. The strike action, which began at midnight last Saturday, has threatened vehicle movements in the country, with CN forced to suspend demurrage, storage and guarantees on car orders as a response.
It has also initiated a labour contingency plan, under which qualified management personnel are filling in as locomotive engineers.
“CN is using qualified management personnel to operate its freight trains, and is working hard to deliver the best service possible to all of its customers given the circumstances and the resources available to it,” CN spokesman Mark Hallman told Automotive Logistics yesterday.
As a consequence of the strike action, Rona Ambrose, Canada’s minister of labour, tabled a Bill on Monday seeking back-to-work legislation.
"This legislation will bring an end to the strike and establish a neutral arbitration process to finalise the terms of a new collective agreement," said Ambrose. "I will not allow this strike to jeopardise the progress we are making towards economic recovery."
Responding to the announcement Hallman said: “It's not known yet when the legislation will become law. CN recognises the government's concerns about the strike's potential impact and the decision to table legislation to end it.”
According to Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), the union representing the locomotive drivers, the strike action was taken in response to CN’s attempt to impose contract and wage changes on November 23rd following 14 months of failed labour negotiations.
Locomotive engineers at CN have been without a contract since December 31, 2008 when collective agreements covering 1,750 locomotive engineers expired.
The change in the amount of miles locomotive engineers would be required to work on a monthly basis was arbitrarily increased from 3,800 to 4,300 (6,115-6,900km) said the TCRC, adding this would have immediately resulted in the loss of approximately 220 locomotive engineer positions
CN said that the strike action could have been avoided if the TCRC agreed to its repeated offers in advance of the strike to submit all issues in the dispute to binding arbitration.
However, according to TCRC president Daniel Shewchuk, CN was simply waiting for government intervention to settle the issues. “CN appears to be using the same tactics they resorted to during negotiations with CN conductors in 2007, which resulted in a strike as well,” he said. “We have offered a number of solutions but CN simply says “No”, each time. If CN had accepted our initial offer, the issues could have been resolved by now. Instead we are still at an impasse.”
Despite this, CN is urging customers to continue to place orders. It is also encouraging customers to release railcars electronically as early as possible so it has full visibility at all times of the workload they will present.
Carmakers affected by the dispute are working with the rail company to limit the impact of the strike on vehicle movements.
GM spokesman, Tony Larocca said: “Currently, we are working closely with CN to minimise the impact that the strike may have on our shipping needs. Production continues at all of our Canadian facilities to keep up with strong demand for our Canadian built products and we are hopeful for a quick resolution.”