MONTREAL — Canadian National Railway Co. (TSX:CNR) has conditionally offered to withdraw a contentious work rule change in a “good faith effort” to end a strike by its locomotive engineers.
The railway said it is willing to roll back the monthly mileage cap to its previous level if the union withdraws its own unspecified work-rule demands.
“If they’ll drop their work rule changes, we’ll drop ours,” spokesman Mark Hallman said in an interview.
Agreement would allow just the issue of wages and benefits to be sent to binding arbitration.
The railway had previously insisted that all matters in dispute be sent to arbitration.
Officials with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents the roughly 1,700 workers, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
CN says the proposal was part of a “good faith effort to reach a settlement.”
“We thought that this was the important good-faith gesture to break the logjam,” Hallman added.
The union previously offered to submit the wage portion of the dispute to final arbitration following resolution of other outstanding issues.
The railway’s move comes a day after Ottawa introduced back-to-work legislation to end a second CN strike in as many years.
Several CN industrial customers have said a protracted strike could cause them serious harm, just as the economy is coming out of a recession.
The railway has been using managers to keep trains running, much as it did during the two-month strike by conductors in 2007.
Engineers walked off the job late Friday after talks broke down.
Canada’s largest railway wants to imposed a 1.5 per cent wage increase and raise the maximum distance engineers can travel in one month by 500 miles (800 kilometres) to 4,300 miles (6,900 kilometres.)
The union argues the hike in the mileage cap would require some workers to work seven days a week, with no time off, and cause layoffs.
CN Rail said that’s not true. It said that under the new regime, engineers who earn about $100,000 a year would work between 16 and 18 days per month, up slightly from the current level of between 15 and 17 days.
The company says it’s requiring engineers to work the same number of miles as conductors, noting they will be paid for their work at adjusted rates.