CN conductors approve post-strike deal

Farmers dump bags of corn grain in front of the Papineau riding office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Montreal, as they protest the lack of propane due to the CN strike, on Nov. 25, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Christinne Muschi)

Canadian National Railway’s conductors and yard workers have voted for at least another two and a half years of labour peace with the company.

The affected employees, members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, voted 91.3 per cent to ratify a three-year contract with CN, retroactive to last July 23, the union said in a release Friday.

The agreement on which employees voted had been reached Nov. 26, wrapping up an eight-day strike by about 3,200 affected employees.

The strike “severely impact(ed) the Canadian economy,” CN said Friday. The company on Tuesday noted the dispute also contributed to a six per cent dent in CN’s fourth-quarter gross revenue compared to the year-earlier period.

This specific work stoppage also had the unusual effect of angering farmers clear across the country. Growers in Eastern Canada found themselves in need of on-time propane deliveries by rail in November to dry down the fall harvest.

Prairie growers, generally captive customers of Canada’s big two railways when moving grain to port, typically face costs in any rail labour disruption — but also needed to fire up their grain dryers this fall against late harvests.

“We did not get everything we wanted, but we still succeeded in reaching a fair agreement which will keep the trains running while improving rail safety,” Teamsters Canada national president Francois Laporte said in a release Friday.

The new agreement binds CN to waive what the TCRC called a “work-now-grieve-later” policy, which the union said had compelled employees to keep working when they seek to book rest and be relieved. The deal also provides for extra compensation for affected staff who are still on the job 30 and 60 minutes into their rest periods.

The deal, which runs to July 22, 2022, also “clarif(ies) when workers are on paid time” by defining shifts as starting and ending at an employee’s specific locker facility. CN had previously counted trips to employee locker facilities as off-duty time, the union said.

TCRC president Lyndon Isaak, in the union’s release Friday, said “the core problem of fatigue in the rail industry can only be resolved through government regulations… The issue of fatigue is still far from resolved.”

The TCRC said the deal also includes an “industry-standard” eight per cent wage increase over the course of the agreement and a taxable $1,000 ratification bonus. The agreement also increases an employee’s lifetime health benefits cap to $75,000, up $15,000.

“Unless the federal government implements a universal pharmacare program, this issue will likely come up again in the next round of bargaining,” the union said.

Calls from various affected industries for federal back-to-work legislation went unanswered during the November strike, which also led to protests by farmers.

“Ottawa used to routinely violate workers’ right to strike in the rail sector,” Laporte said in Friday’s release, praising the current government for having “remained calm and focused on helping parties reach an agreement.”

For CN’s part, “we are pleased to have completed these agreements,” CEO JJ Ruest said in a separate release. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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