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CN, Teamsters union meet after workers reject tentative agreement

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MONTREAL - Canadian National Railway and union negotiators representing about 3,000 of its employees resumed contract talks Monday after the workers rejected a collective agreement negotiated last year.

The tentative agreement was rejected by 67 per cent of the conductors, yard workers and others who voted on it last week.

Roland Hackl, general chairman of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, said members simply don't trust the company to live up to a new collective agreement when issues like rest provisions are not respected in the current agreement.

"It's very difficult to expect a member to vote in favour of a new collective agreement when virtually every time you go to work the existing collective agreement is violated," he said in an interview during a break in talks.

Hackl said the collective agreement allows workers to request a rest after working 10 hours, but the company is requiring them to work a full 12-hour shift, the maximum permitted by law.

The company wanted to amend the collective agreement to have provisions mirror the legislative requirements, but backed down during negotiations.

Other irritants include "arbitrary" changes to other rules in place for decades, he said.

CN (TSX:CNR) spokesman Mark Hallman said extreme winter across its network since December has hampered normal operations and slowed trains.

"CN complies with the statutory rest provisions for its conductors in accordance with federal government regulations. Whenever the TCRC-CTY has brought perceived contractual rest provision problems to the attention of management, CN has taken immediate steps to address them," he wrote in an email

But Hackl said the collective agreement is more generous than the statutory provisions.

"Those agreements have been in force for 50 years and the company has changed their operations to a point where it seems that their business model is predicated on violating the collective agreement."

Hackl didn't say how long the talks were likely to continue or what specific actions are required, but said there is a "steep hill to climb" to build employee trust.

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