Wednesday, April 11, 2007

[olympiaworkers] Pressure mounts as rotating strikes hit CN Rail

By Allan Dowd Wed Apr 11, 2007

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadian National Railway faced
picket lines on Wednesday, but the union said it does not plan this new
job action to be as disruptive as the strike that hamstrung Canada's
largest railway in February.

In response, CN Rail told the United Transportation Union (UTU) it would
lock out workers in the areas where picket lines have been set up,
including Vancouver, Canada's largest port.

Canada's labor minister warned on Wednesday of possible Conservative
government intervention if the latest labor action was seen as too
disruptive to the economy. The opposition Liberals called for the House of
Commons to end its Easter break early to deal with the dispute.

The union that represents 2,800 Canadian National workers launched
rotating strikes late on Tuesday after workers overwhelmingly voted down
the tentative contract deal that had ended February's 15-day walkout.

Union officials said they were still waiting to hear from CN Rail on a
return to the bargaining table. A company spokesman has said it is willing
to resume talks, but has not set a timetable on when that will happen.

Picketing by the conductors, brakemen and switch yard employees initially
began in Vancouver but soon spread to three switching yards in Ontario,
including Oakville.

The picketing at each location is expected to last for only a short time,
but could resume later in the week. February's walkout was a general
strike by CN's 2,800 UTU members.

"We're not planning a full shutdown of the railroad," said Bob Sharpe, a
UTU vice-president.

But the company said its lockouts would remain in place until the dispute
is resolved.

"The rational is that CN is a scheduled railroad, and we can't run a
scheduled freight operation without scheduled manpower," spokesman Mark
Hallman said.

The sides are at odds over wages, but many employees have said they are
more concerned about issues such as work rules and rest breaks.

February's walkout caused layoffs at CN customers in the auto and forestry
industries and disrupted grain exports through Vancouver on both Canadian
National and smaller rival Canadian Pacific Railway.

The Canadian Wheat Board warned on Wednesday of new problems even if the
strike is more limited in scope.

"This is a really bad time, from a farmer perspective, for there to be any
delays in grain movement because they're in the pre-seeding period," said
Maureen Fitzhenry of the CWB, Canada's largest grain shipper.

Canadian National is using management crews to replace striking workers,
but Chief Executive Hunter Harrison warned customers on Tuesday there
would be service delays.

Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn urged the sides to resume
negotiations, and said he was concerned the dispute could disrupt the

The federal government had threatened to order an end to February's
walkout, but the back-to-work legislation was put on hold during the
contract vote.

Blackburn said he could revive the bill quickly if needed, although
Parliament is not scheduled to return until April 16. Federal officials
have said a decision on whether to revive the legislation will depend on
the level of disruption.

"The back-to-work legislation remains on the order paper ... ready to be
passed if necessary," Blackburn said in a statement.

The Conservatives would need unanimous consent of the three opposition
parties to push the bill quickly through the legislative process, and the
pro-union New Democratic Party is unlikely to support such a measure.

The main opposition Liberal Party said rail service was vital, and it
wants the government to call lawmakers back to Ottawa by Friday to begin
work on legislation.

The strike does not involve CN's operations in the United States, and the
union has said it has no plans to disrupt commuter passenger service in
Toronto or Montreal. Via Rail passenger trains are also not involved.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Winnipeg, and Louise Egan in

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