Talks are ongoing but there is now a strike notice overhanging Canadian National and its 3,200 Teamsters members.
Both the company and the union announced late Saturday that the Teamsters had served a strike notice to CN. The strike would occur just after the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, November 19.
In its prepared statement, CN quoted COO and executive vice president Rob Reilly as saying the railroad had offered binding arbitration to the union but it had declined. “If a settlement cannot be reached this weekend, we will once again encourage the union leadership to accept binding arbitration as an alternative to disrupting the Canadian economy,” Reilly said, according to the statement. “We remain committed to constructive talks to reach an agreement without a work stoppage.”
Among the other accusations lobbed at the railroad by the union, the Teamsters said CN “wants to make it more difficult to take time off and make employees work longer hours.” The goal, the union said, is “an attempt to get more work done with fewer people and to reduce staffing levels.”
Complaints of too-tight personnel numbers have been levied against several railroads in the last year or more, and not just by unions. It has been fueled to a large degree by the class 1 railroads’ embrace of precision railroading. One of the key pillars of PSR is reduced employee numbers.
Teamsters President Lyndon Isaak did not mention PSR in his prepared statement. But it wasn’t hard to think PSR when reading his quote: “This obsession with profits and shareholder return, at the expense of just about everything else, is exactly what is wrong with our economy.”
In CN’s recent third quarter results, the company reported a 4% increase in revenue from the third quarter of 2018, an increase in diluted earnings per share of 8%, an increase in operating income also of 8% and a strong operating ratio of 57.9%.
The union statement also made clear that it is not interested in binding arbitration. “Rather than reaching an agreement at the bargaining table, CN is intent on submitting these issues and more to binding arbitration,” the Teamsters statement said. “By resolving its differences with the union through arbitration, the company hopes to achieve gains that could not have otherwise been made by negotiating in good faith.”
The union said negotiations have been ongoing for seven months. A Canadian government mediator has been involved for the last five.
The union statement was far more specific than the company release, with more details about either what the railroad was seeking or the current conditions that the Teamsters are looking to change. The strike notice comes just days after reports that CN was planning on layoffs of up to 1,600 workers though it was unclear how many of those were members of the Teamsters.
“CN currently requires (Teamsters) members to operate trains alone from outside of the locomotive, hanging on to moving trains with one hand while operating a remotely controlled locomotive with the other,” the union said in its statement. “Railroaders are expected to do this in rain and in freezing temperatures, sometimes for distances of up to about 17 miles.”
The union and company are also in a standoff over lifetime pharmaceutical benefits, according to the union.