About 3,000 workers at Canadian National Railway have agreed to take one more kick at the can in hopes of negotiating a new labour agreement.
Conductors, train persons and yard workers represented by Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC-CTY) were scheduled to resume talks with CN this week.
The workers, whose demands include longer rest times between shifts, have been without a contract since last summer.
Union and company officials were scheduled to meet in Montreal March 26 to discuss the terms of arbitration that would be followed in the event that the two sides are unable to reach a negotiated settlement.
If terms of arbitration can be settled, then the two sides would return to the bargaining table to see if a new labour agreement can be reached.
“The company is offering final offer selection,” said Teamsters spokesperson Roland Hackl in a March 24 interview.
“We’re looking for a form of arbitration that allows a little bit more give and take than final offer selection.”
Unionized workers narrowly rejected an agreement last week that was negotiated in February between union and company officials.
Following the failed ratification vote, CN proposed that the dispute be sent to final offer arbitration.
Hackl said the union is still hopeful that outstanding issues can be resolved at the bargaining table.
A negotiated agreement would still be subject to ratification by workers, which could take another month or two.
“We want this wrapped up as soon as possible, but there’s always a challenge to make sure that information gets out to everybody so that they’ve got an informed vote,” Hackl said.
“The last ratification was a 45-day period, and that was cutting it pretty fine. We might be able to cut a little time off that … but I would think a month to 45 days (would be required).”
CN said it was pleased that the union had agreed to resume the bargaining process.
“I am very pleased that the Teamsters have accepted our offer to negotiate a settlement and, failing such, to submit our differences to binding arbitration,” said CN president Claude Mongeau in a March 22 news release.
“With a process assuring contractual certainty, CN and the Teamsters can continue working on the company’s recovery from an extraordinarily cold winter that hampered operations, and help our valued customers across Canada get their goods to market.”
The threat of a labour disruption at CN comes at time when both of Canada’s major railways are facing increased scrutiny from Ottawa.
Ottawa was expected to introduce new legislation this week aimed at ensuring better service for rail shippers.
Details of that legislation were not available at press time, but sources in Ottawa said new legislation was not likely to be tabled before March 26.