About 750 signal and communication workers walked off the job on Saturday
By Diego Flammini
Employees at one of Canada’s national railways are on strike.
Across Canada, about 750 signal and communication workers at Canadian National Railway (CN), represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ (IBEW), walked off the job on June 18 after the union and the company failed to come to a new working agreement.
IBEW provided CN with a 72-hour strike notice on June 15.
Communications and signal workers are responsible for maintaining rail crossings, ensuring switches work properly and conducting train inspections.
The sides last ratified a five-year contract in April 2017.
That deal provided 2 per cent pay increases in the first three years of the deal and 3 per cent increases in the final two years.
CN’s latest proposal, which the two sides began working on in Oct. 2021, included 10 per cent in wage improvements over three years, better scheduling to ensure two consecutive days off and an increase in meal per diems.
“We have met or exceeded every one of the union’s demands in an effort to reach an agreement prior to the strike deadline,” Rob Reilly, CN’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, told employees in a June 20 letter. “Unfortunately, we did not reach an agreement and the union has exercised its legal right to strike.”
CN’s latest offer isn’t enough, striking employees say.
Workers need support to ensure new and existing employees can succeed during times of inflation, said Chris Nadon, president of IBEW Local 2052 in Val Caron, Ont.
"As inflation rises, we want to make sure that we can help, like we can stay firmly into the middle class and help anybody new that we hire into the group to find their place within that as well," he told CBC. “And we are looking for a better benefits package as well. It’s been years and years since we’ve actually had a fair increase in our benefits.”
Despite the disruption, it won’t affect CN’s daily operations.
The company “has implemented its operational contingency plan,” CN said on June 20. “The plan allows (CN) to maintain a normal level of safe rail operations across Canada and serve its customers for as long as required.”
CN is a major grain mover in Canada.
In 2021 the railway announced it moved 31 million metric tonnes of grain and processed grain products during the 2020-21 crop year.
More contract negotiations are coming up for CN and its employees.
The contract between the railway and 3,289 conductors and yard coordinators, which CN and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference ratified in 2021, expires on July 23, 2022.
Contracts with track forces, shopcraft, locomotive engineers and clerical and intermodal staff expire on Dec. 31, 2022.