Rail workers reject binding arbitration offer as strike threat still looms: CN

Rail workers have rejected an offer from Canadian National Railway Co. to enter into binding arbitration, as the country’s largest railroad operator tries to steer clear of a strike in a move the union called disingenuous.

Image: Canadian National Railway Company

The process, when agreed to, sees a mutually approved arbitrator settle a labour dispute by deciding the terms of a new collective agreement between the parties.

CN said Thursday it has put forward two proposals for those agreements: one looked to pay hourly wages to workers on a schedule in a change from the longstanding practice of pay per mile with no schedule; the other aimed to extend parts of the current arrangement.

“The TCRC (Teamsters Canada Rail Conference) has rejected all offers put to them and has now rejected a voluntary arbitration process,” CN said in a statement.

Teamsters Canada has countered that the first offer involves “forced relocation” of workers for months at a time, while the second compels shifts of up to 12 hours — in line with regulations, but beyond the 10-hour ceiling currently available to employees. The latter change would also raise the risk of accidents, the union has claimed.

“The call for binding arbitration at this late stage of the bargaining process underscores the disingenuousness and failure of CN’s negotiation strategy,” said spokesman Christopher Monette in an email.

“We firmly believe that binding arbitration can be avoided if CN stopped demanding concessions that would negatively impact workers’ quality of life and undermine rail safety.”

Last month, employees at CN and Canadian Pacific Kansas City Ltd. authorized a strike mandate that could see some 9,300 workers walk off the job if they are unable to reach new agreements.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, in an apparent move to delay a potential strike, stepped in by asking the country’s labour board to review whether a work stoppage would jeopardize Canadians’ health and safety.

The Canada Industrial Relations Board has extended a late-May deadline for replies to submissions to June 14, CN said Thursday, making a decision unlikely before mid-July, according to both railways.