MONTREAL, QUÉBEC, CANADA — Approximately 3,200 Canadian National Railway (CN) conductors, train persons and yard workers went on strike Nov. 19 impacting the company’s ability to transport grain, oil and potash.

The strike went into effect due to failed negotiations between CN and Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC). TCRC is fighting for better rail safety and prescription drug benefits.

According to TCRC, CN currently requires TCRC 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. Noting, railroaders are expected to do this in rain and in freezing temperatures, sometimes for distances of up to about 17 miles.

TCRC said CN has refused to come to a “satisfactory agreement” to adjust operating practices concerning safety. The union also noted CN is not budging on prescription coverage, offering a lifetime cap on prescription drug coverage.

“This would be tantamount to denying workers — and their families — proper treatment for some forms of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and other diseases,” said TCRC.

The Union also said CN is making it more difficult for workers to take time off work and increasing work hours.

“Fatigue has been recognized by the Transportation Safety Board as a major safety problem in this industry,” said Lyndon Isaak, president of the TCRC. “Too many railroaders are operating trains when they should be resting. For the safety of all Canadians, we cannot allow CN to make it even harder for our members to get the rest they need.”

Honorable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, issued a statement regarding the collective bargaining negotiations between CN and TCRC urging for continued talks.

“Following months of negotiations, CN Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference have been unable to reach new collective agreements and a work stoppage has begun,” Hajdu said. “The Honorable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, and I urge both parties to continue their negotiations. The government of Canada understands the importance of the rail industry and its workers to the Canadian economy. While we are concerned about the impact of a work stoppage on Canadians, we remain hopeful they will reach an agreement.

“The government of Canada supports and has faith in the collective bargaining process. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has been working closely with the parties since June and remains available to assist them. We are monitoring the situation closely.”

On Nov. 16 CN was served a notice of intent to strike by TCRC if an agreement could not be achieved.

In reaction to the notice, Rob Reilly, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of CN, said, “We continue to negotiate in good faith to reach a fair agreement before the strike deadline. In the spirit of protecting the Canadian economy, we have offered the union binding arbitration and they have 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. We remain committed to constructive talks to reach an agreement without a work stoppage.”

CN transports more than C$250 billion worth of goods annually for a wide range of business sectors, ranging from resource products to manufactured products to consumer goods, across a rail network of approximately 20,000 route miles spanning Canada and mid-America.

In October, CN broke another of its grain shipping records with 2.8 million tonnes of grain and processed grain products. The company has moved 6.7 million tonnes of grain this year so far.

The strike does not impact public transportation.

Teamsters represent 125,000 members in Canada in all industries, including 16,000 workers in the rail industry. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with which Teamsters Canada is affiliated, has 1.4 million members in North America.