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CANADA: Canadian Rail Engineers Begin a Strike

by Ian AustenNew York Times
November 28th, 2009

About 1,700 locomotive engineers with the Canadian National Railway went on strike early Saturday morning. The walkout, which may create difficulties for manufacturers and resource companies, followed a decision by Canadian National to impose a new contract on its workers.

Although the strike does not involve engineers for Canadian Nationalís operations in the United States, it may nevertheless cause problems in both countries. Some American imports from Asia and Europe land at Canadian ports and then are moved to the United States on Canadian National trains.

The railroad, based in Montreal, said in a statement that it would try to maintain service by using managers to operate trains. Given the scale of the walkout, however, it was not clear whether that would be possible.

Automobile manufacturers in Ontario are particularly dependent on Canadian National both for parts shipments and for delivering cars, most of which are destined for the United States. In Western Canada, the strike will make it difficult, if not impossible, for many farmers to ship grain to ports in British Columbia.

After 14 months of labor negotiations came to an impasse, Canadian National imposed a new contract last Monday. According to the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the railroad wants to increase its membersí wages by 1.5 percent in the contractís first year. But it would also impose a 500-mile increase in the distance engineers are required to cover each month.

The union said in a statement that the increased distance would sometimes make engineers work seven-day weeks without overtime.

Unionized engineers will continue to operate commuter trains in the Montreal area. Via Rail Canada, the national passenger carrier, operates many of its trains on Canadian National tracks, but it employs its own engineers.

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