Legislation Halts the Canadian Rail Strike

With the Minister of Labor, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, saying the labor dispute is hurting the national economy, Canada's Conservative Party legislators, with support from opposition party members, have passed a back-to-work law to force the 2,800 conductor and yard worker members of the United Transportation Union (UTU) to end their labor action.

Concern about the ramifications of the strike for the Canadian economy have been expressed by the automotive and forestry industries as well as those involved in grain exports. The Ports of Vancouver in the West and Halifax in the East are very dependent on rail for movement of both import and export freight.

UTU reaction was swift in coming. “We are very disapointed that the government has interfered in our collective bargaining but we have no choice,” says John Armstrong, the union's vice president. “The process the government has imposed is a winner-take-all process, designed to compel both parties to move to the center.” For the union, wage and work conditions remain to be resolved.

The labor action began in February. Some 600 CN managers filled in for the UTU members on strike at the time. Under threat of back-to-work legislation, Bill C-46, the railroad and its workers had reached a tentative one-year agreement--said to include a 3% wage increase and signing bonus--that was rejected by 79% of Canada's UTU's membership. The new round of labor action by the union was through rotating strikes. The union did not take measures against commuter train traffic in Toronto or Montreal.

In reaction, CN began locking out union members at terminals where they had withdrawn services. “We cannot run scheduled/precision freight operations without predictable manpower resources,” said E. Hunter Harrison, president and CEO of CN by way of explanation of the railroad's action at the time. “Rotating withdrawals of employee services are very disruptive to the company. We must ensure the continuity of our operations.” With the back-to-work legislation, the lockout was ended.

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