Board weighs legality of CN strike as union chiefs bicker

CN Rail and the United Transportation Union squared off Monday in a hearing on the legality of a nine-day-old strike by conductors and yard crews.

Asshippers' problemsworsened and U.S. union officials sniped from across the border, CN Railand the United Transportation Union squared off on Monday in a hearingon the legality of anine-day-old strike by conductors and yard crews.

CNasked the Canada Industrial Relations Boardto rule that the UTU's Canadian branchtook the 2,800workers out on strikeillegally because it failed to get clearance from the union's international headquarters in Cleveland.

The Canadian branch said it followed Canadian labour law, but theUTU's international president, Paul Thompson,has offeredsupport for CN's claim.

He posted astatement on the union's website on Feb. 16,portraying Canadian UTU leadersas plotting to defect to therival Teamsters union in hope of getting Teamster jobs for themselves.

"It now is shockingly apparent that this time around, the Canadian UTU general chairpersons failed to follow the UTU constitution for the apparent purpose of launching an unauthorized strike that they knew would result in financial harm to their members,"Thompson said in the statement.

"This was part of their self-serving treachery to turn their members against the UTU International, avoid allowing the members to decide what union they wished to affiliate with in Canada and turn their membership over to the Teamsters."

In Ottawa, a receptionist at theUTU's Canadian headquarters said senior officials were inmeetings on Monday and were not available for comment.

Federal cabinet ministers were also meeting Mondayto consider ways to end the strike, the Canadian Press reported.

Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn said a cabinet subcommitteewas reviewing "all options,"but hewouldn't say whether back-to-work legislation is on the table.

Meanwhile, about 600 CN managers were filling in for the striking workers and losing the battleto keep freight moving at normal rates. Some factories have cut production and sent employees home because of problems caused by the strike.

Lobby group says strike is having widespreadimpact

A business lobby group, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said the impactwas widespread because many companies no longer stockpile parts and material, preferring what is called just-in-time delivery.

Some lumbercompanieshad piles of product ready to go with no wayto move it, and the governor of Maine said his state was short of propane because of the strike, the CBC's Jeannie Lee reported.

Nova Chemical Corp.,an Alberta enterprise now run from Calgary and Pittsburgh,said production was running an average of about 15 per cent below normal at itsplants in Eastern and Western Canada because of the strike.

Greg Wilkinson, a Nova vice-president, said companies that buy plastics and chemicals from Nova mayhave evenbigger problems.

"Our customers right now are facing pressure in terms of supply and so we are working closely with CN to try to identify priorities, which customers are closest to shutting down," he told CBC News Online.

With files from the Canadian Press