Tentative deal reached to end CN Rail strike

MONTREAL — Teamsters Canada says it has reached a tentative agreement with Canadian National Railway Co. to renew the collective agreement for over 3,000 conductors, trainpersons and yard workers.

The union said normal operations at CN will resume Wednesday at 6 a.m. local time across Canada.

Details of the agreement, which must be ratified by union members, were not immediately available.

The workers began their strike, which brought freight trains to a halt across the country, last week.

The federal government had faced mounting pressure to resolve the strike — either through swift mediation, binding arbitration or back-to-work legislation — as premiers and industry voiced concerns about lost profits and a critical propane shortage in Quebec.

However the government said it believed that the quickest way to resolve the dispute would be a negotiated settlement reached at the bargaining table.

The union thanked the prime minister for respecting the workers’ right to strike and acknowledged the help of Labour Minister Filomena Tassi, Transport Minister Marc Garneau and the federal mediation and conciliation service in reaching the deal.

“Previous governments routinely violated workers’ right to strike when it came to the rail industry. This government remained calm and focused on helping parties reach an agreement, and it worked,” Teamsters Canada president Francois Laporte said.

The railway workers had raised worries about long hours, fatigue and what they considered dangerous working conditions.

CN rejected the union’s claim that the strike concerns workplace health and safety, suggesting instead that it revolves around worker compensation.

Premier Scott Moe said to media at Canadian Western Agribition in Regina that the tentative agreement is a positive outcome. “Not only for Saskatchewan and our export industries that rely on our rail service, but I think it’s a sigh of relief for the entire nation. That is not saying that there isn’t going to be some dragging consequences from the week shut-down that we had. We will have challenges in agriculture and the potash industry.”

“We are behind the eight-ball now,” Moe said. “We are pleased at the negotiated tentative settlement has been reached. This is what we have asked for all along. It’s the quickest, it’s the swiftest and we’ve always said that the best agreements do come at the bargaining table and we are thankful to both sides for this tentative agreement.”

The seven day strike has tied up all kinds of commodity shipments including grain, propane, potash and lumber, just to name a few.

“The damage has been done and we are behind the eight-ball,” said Gunter Jochum, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers. “It will probably take until next summer to make up the shortfall.”

A rough calculation indicates CN would have shipped 5,600 rail cars during the past week, which amounts to about 500,000 metric tonnes of grain. There are also 35 ships waiting for grain on the West Coast, as well as lost crushing time at canola oil processing facilities.

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan says CN needs to update its winter shipping plan for grain.

“We want to ensure that Saskatchewan grain will move out in a timely fashion,” said Todd Lewis, APAS president. “We don’t want to be the last thing moved in this backlog. We want to see space is made available for grain, and specifically grain from Saskatchewan.”

Lewis notes that during previous grain backlogs, railways prefer to move product on main lines and from Alberta first in order to boost transport statistics.

He adds there should not be any layoffs at CN, something the railway indicated was going to happen prior to the strike.

Jochum says the strike was very frustrating from a farmer’s perspective because it was very hard to pick a side. Many farmers don’t like unions, but they could understand concerns about working long hours under difficult conditions.

The Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission says it’s time to consider applying essential service provisions to rail service affecting grain movement. It points to the fact that longshoremen are covered by such legislation already and believes those same provisions be extended to rail workers.

(With files from: Canadian Press, CJWW and Jim Smalley)

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