MONTREAL, Que.–CN, saying its labour negotiations with Unifor have reached an impasse after almost six months of bargaining, today urged the union to accept that binding arbitration is the best way to settle their outstanding contractual differences. Barring such an agreement over the weekend, CN said it will exercise its right under the Canada Labour Code to lockout Unifor’s 4,800 members at CN at 2300 hours, Monday, Feb. 23.
Unifor represents approximately 4,800 CN employees in mechanical, intermodal, clerical and other areas of the company’s business in Canada.
“The differences separating the company and union are as clear as they will ever be, and they will not become any clearer over a month-long strike mandate process announced yesterday by Unifor. Our impasse is not about charity. CN already supports many charities and is willing to support charitable causes jointly with Unifor, but our principles are clear — we are not prepared to allow financial matters related to the union itself to take precedence over the interest of our employees,” said Claude Mongeau, president and chief executive officer of CN.
“CN insists that Unifor focus on bargaining what matters: the terms and conditions that apply to our employees. Unifor believes CN should match the terms of its recent settlement with Canadian Pacific, but that’s not the right deal pattern. Our complete settlement offers to Unifor, the last union we are currently bargaining with, are fair, competitive and fully in line with the amicable contract renewals that we have recently bargained with four other unions at CN, including the Teamsters. Our offers to Unifor did not require any meaningful concessions to work rules or pension. They would also maintain Unifor-represented employees working at CN among the highest paid in their trades in the Canadian rail industry. We cannot accept the uncertainty that Unifor’s month-long strike mandate process will create for our customers, our employees and the gateways we serve. Canada’s trade reputation deserves labour certainty as we conclude this round of bargaining in the rail industry,” he added.
Mongeau also said the railway did not need government intervention at this time.
“CN and Unifor on their own can reach a resolution of their differences through binding arbitration. It’s a tried process that we both have used many times in the past. The issues separating the parties are clear, and that clarity will allow an arbitrator to make an informed decision about what is the most suitable deal pattern for our employees. CN hopes Unifor will agree to this reasonable path forward, and sit down with CN over the weekend to reach either a negotiated settlement on the terms and conditions of employment for employees, or refer our dispute to binding arbitration. Failing that – and in lieu of a lengthy and unnecessary Unifor strike mandate process – CN will exercise its right under the Canada Labour Code to lockout Unifor’s 4,800 members effective 2300 hours, Monday, Feb. 23. We will deploy our labour disruption contingency plan, with trained management personnel performing the work of Unifor members, in order to protect service to our customers to the best of our ability. We hope Unifor leadership will see the merits of this sensible approach and work with us to avoid the prospects of an unfortunate lockout of their members on Monday,” Mongeau said.
Freight forwarder association CIFFA, responding to the notice, issued a bulletin recommending that “members take all possible measures to remove any containers they have at CN yards over the weekend. In the event of a lockout, service disruptions and slowdowns are highly likely on Monday and next week. If there is a lock out, it will take CN management a few days to get up to speed with their operations and so delays should be expected,” CIFFA said.
Julia Kuzeljevich is Editor of Canadian Shipper. She has been writing about transportation and logistics issues since 1999. All posts by Julia Kuzeljevich