Thursday, February 19, 2015

Labour dispute percolates once again at Canadian National Railway

Update: February 21 -- CN Rail may lockout workers by Monday

CN Rail headed for Monday lockout after Unifor rejects binding arbitration
CN  Railway will lockout 4,800 workers on Monday if settlement isn't reached

Original Story:

A dispute over potential contributions to a Community Action Fund created by the labour union Unifor,  could find CN Rail operations facing a labour dispute in March.
A situation that would have a significant impact on operations across Northern British Columbia and into the Port of Prince Rupert.

The labour breakdown this week resulted from the refusal of CN to meet one major item on the bargaining table and since those discussions broke off, both sides have taken to rattling their sabres over the issue.

The point of contention in this instance, is a bargaining demand from Unifor that would reportedly have had CN provide 5 cents, per compensated hour, per employee  directed towards the newly formed Canadian Community Fund.

A union mechanism that CN believes is more of a political action committee than anything else.

The nature of the disagreement over the Community Action Fund led to a strongly worded statement from CN on Wednesday.

In a press release speaking to the status of the negotiations (see here),  CN outlined its position related to the fund contribution, the key points from that statement can be found below:

A key stumbling block is Unifor's demand that CN contribute cash to the union's political and community action fund – as a matter of principle, CN is not prepared to allow such a union agenda to take precedence over the interests of its employees.

Claude Mongeau, CN president and chief executive officer provided more background on the CN position related to dispute at this moment.

"This is an issue of principle for us. CN is prepared to co-invest in charitable causes, but we are not prepared to support such a union agenda. "We are offering several alternatives, including binding arbitration, to keep the process moving forward toward resolution. We will continue to use our best efforts to reach an agreement with Unifor.

Beyond the controversial Community Fund issue, the remainder of the contract offer from the railroad called for a three year agreement, with three percent wage increases each year, with benefit improvements in line with those that the company had negotiated recently with the United Steelworkers, Teamster Canada locomotive engineers and Teamsters Canada Rail Traffic controllers.

For his part, Unifor President Jerry Dias is accusing CN of misrepresenting the concept of the Union's Canadian Community Fund, which Unifor says is part of the union's broader social mandate.

Yesterday, in an interview with Canadian Press, the Unifor President highlighted the difference in opinion related to the fund between the two Canadian railways.

"CP understood the value of this fund, it's unfortunate that CN does not see this opportunity"

He went on to suggest that it is the opinion of Unifor leadership that it had now established a pattern for the fund, through its negotiations with CP Rail.

Unifor announced that new agreement with CP Rail on February 15th, declaring that the union had broken new ground in several different areas.

On Wednesday, Canadian National responded to the developments, announcing that in the wake of the breakdown in negotiations, that they were putting in place unilateral contract modifications, effective February 20th. (see statement for full details on those changes)

The answer to that move, as well as more comment on the impasse over the Community Fund, came following a Unifor media conference held this morning.

At that conference,  Unifor announced that it was commencing with a Strke Vote at CN, while pushing for the company to return to the bargaining process.

Unifor workers will begin their voting process early next week, with a strike deadline to be set for the end of March, which the unions states will allow for CN customers to make alternative transportation arrangements.

The Unifor President outlined the union's major issues related to the breakdown during the media conference, noting how the union and its members are not pleased to be forced into this position and pointed to the potential of federal intervention that could come..

"CN is trying to get a discounted settlement, by counting on the government to cut off collective bargaining with back to work legislation," 

 "CN is highly profitable, even more so than CP Rail, yet somehow it is claiming it cannot meet the pattern agreement that we established at CP."

"Companies like CN should not be leaning on government to interfere in collective bargaining."

Canadian National provides the only rail access into and out of the terminal facilities at the Port of Prince Rupert, any job disruption would have an impact on terminal activities at all of the shipment facilities in the region.

Any potential shutdown would cause for a major disruption to container traffic through the CN system as well as for grain exports,  which would most likely bring the Federal government into the dissuasion fairly quickly.

Should the next month deliver a labour disruption on the rail road, it's widely anticipated that back to work legislation would be introduced in Parliament shortly after, with the impact of any labour dispute on the transportation system as the key aspect of that legislation.

February 18 -- CN plans Contract changes after talks fail
February 18 -- CN plans unilateral contract modifications after talks with Unifor fail
February 18 -- CN strike possibility grows with dispute over 5¢ contribution to union’s community fund

More items related to CN operations on the North Coast can be found here, while our archive of labour issues and notes can be reviewed here.

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