Montreal/Ottawa | Reuters — Canadian National Railway and a union representing 3,000 conductors on Monday reached an agreement in principle ahead of a looming strike deadline at Canada’s largest railroad, said a top union official.
The union had set a strike deadline of Tuesday at 4 a.m. ET after the railroad announced new work rules during negotiations to replace an expired contract.
“They are working on the final language,” Teamsters Canada Rail Conference president Doug Finnson said by telephone.
The stoppage would have been be the first strike by CN conductors, or train operators, in a decade. Two sources close to the talks had earlier reported good progress.
In a release Monday, CN said details of the tentative deal would not be released pending a ratification vote by TCRC members. The ratification process is expected to take about 60 days, the company said.
Rail shippers had earlier urged Ottawa to intervene, fearing a shutdown would immediately damage business.
The Freight Management Association of Canada wrote to Labour Minister Patty Hajdu on Sunday asking her to impose binding arbitration to resolve the dispute.
Hajdu, speaking to reporters Monday, did not respond to questions about whether she was considering legislation to keep trains running during a strike. A federally appointed mediator is assisting in the talks.
“We have every confidence that we’re going to get a deal,” she said.
Canada exports most of the grain, potash and other commodities that it produces, moving them vast distances to ports via CN or Canadian Pacific Railway (CP).
A strike would delay arrival of commodity shipments at port, racking up higher costs, said freight association president Bob Ballantyne on Monday.
Retail importers would be affected, along with auto manufacturers who rely on just-in-time parts delivery, he said.
— Reporting for Reuters by Allison Lampert in Montreal and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; additional reporting for Reuters by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.