Cargo moving into or out of the port of Prince Rupert could grind to a halt later this month as talks between CN Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference broke down last week.
A total 3,300 conductors, trainmen, yardmen and traffic coordinators working for CN have been working without a contract since July 22. But when CN management turned down the union’s offer to continue conciliation past Oct. 7, the two sides entered a 21-day cooling-off period that ends on Oct. 28 after which a lockout or strike is a possibility.
The union says CN is asking for concessions which would require people to work longer hours with less rest time between trips, something it says flies in the face of CN’s commitment to safety.
“We’re extremely disappointed by CN’s refusal to extend the mediation period. The railway uses an old tactic: pointing a gun to its workers’ heads to force them to make concessions,” said TCRC spokesperson Roland Hackl, noting wages and the retirement plan are not the central issue for the union.
“CN’s managers have to walk the walk and talk the talk; they have to understand that people are not machines and that you should never place profits before people.”
Talks between the two sides are set to resume on Oct. 21, with the aid of federally appointed mediators. Mark Hallman of CN says the company is optimistic the two sides can reach an agreement, but refutes the union’s claims that anyone is being put at risk.
“As matter of policy, CN does not comment on the substance of on-going labour negotiations. However, CN stresses that none of its bargaining proposals would in any way compromise the health and safety of TCRC-CTY members,” he said.
“Indeed, it is our opinion that CN’s proposals would positively affect the health and safety of our employees.”
Prince Rupert Port Authority manager of corporate communications Michael Gurney said the port is keeping a keen eye on the developments.
“A rail service disruption would obviously have an impact on port operations, so we hope for an expeditious and mutually satisfactory resolution to the negotiations,” he said.