Canadian Rail Workers May Strike Again

April 10, 2007: Traffic World—A union vote count that will be released at the close of the business day on April 10 could allow a strike in Canada to quickly flare back up against Canadian National Railway.

The United Transportation Union, representing 2,800 CN conductors and yard workers in that country, planned to release the count at 5 p.m. eastern time, amid indications that many union members might reject the tentative one-year contract.

The UTU struck CN for two weeks in February before the two sides reached a deal that sent union members back to work. However, the strike technically remained in effect with job actions suspended pending the union vote, so if workers do not accept the deal the union would resume strike activity within hours.

The UTU has said if members reject the contract it would probably use a "rolling strike" of selected outages this time instead of a full-scale walkout. CN spokesman Mark Hallman said if that happens the company as before would use managers to keep trains running.

"CN will work very hard to maintain service to its customers," Hallman said, but he noted that CN's service level would be affected by the frequency and severity of any labor disruptions.

The February strike cut into plant and port activity and triggered layoffs among customers, and the government asked Parliament to end the strike and put the talks under arbitration that could impose a settlement. But the strike ended before the lawmakers voted on the measure, and Parliament is now adjourned until next week.

The UTU vote is complicated with a drive by former UTU-Canada leaders to have union members join the Teamsters, which already represents CN train engineers, and reject the UTU contract with CN. The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference says a majority of CN's UTU members signed application cards with that other union.

CN recently warned that its first-quarter earnings would not meet earlier expectations, because of the strike plus unusually severe and recurring weather problems. If the strike picks back up, this time it would affect second-quarter operations.

by John D. Boyd

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