Rail talks resume as Tories file back-to-work notice

Company and union negotiators return to mediated bargaining under threat of a legislated return to work for 2,800 striking CN Rail employees.

Company and unionnegotiatorsreturned to mediated bargaining Wednesday under threat of a legislated return towork for 2,800 striking CN Rail employees.

Federal Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburnfiled notice on Wednesday of his intent to legislate an end to the 12-day-old work stoppage, which has disrupted rail shipments across the country.

A bill that would force the striking conductors and yard crews back to work will be tabled Friday morning.

Blackburn saidhe hopes the bill will be passed quickly, but in a minority Parliament, nothing is certain.

"We hope at the beginning of next week everything could be done, but to repeat, it is still possible for both parties to find an agreement," he said.

Pressure on the federal government to intervene in the strike continued to mount Wednesday as more companies complainedabout the effects of the work stoppage.

Forest products company Tembec was the latest firmto askthe government to step in.

"The impact of this strike on Tembec, on the industry and on communities all over Canada is increasing every day," said James Lopez, Tembec's president and CEO.

"Raw materials, particularly chemicals, are running low at some of our production sites, as are supplies such as diesel, which is critical to both our woodlands operations and to our ability to get much of our product out to market. This situation cannot be allowed to continue," he said in a release.

Production halted

Another forestry company, Canfor Corp.,on Tuesday blamed the CN strike for its decision to take production downtime at its Mackenzie sawmill beginning Wednesday, three production days earlier than it announced last week.

The company also said it will make additional curtailments at other British Columbia mills— in Vavenby andHouston— and its Kyahwood remanufacturing joint venture in Moricetown, B.C.

Canfor said the downtime representsabout 20 million board feet of additional production curtailment thatit hashad to take as a result of the strike.

"The timing of the strike places an additional burden on our operations and is having a very negative impact on our company," president and CEO Jim Shepherd said. "Over 1,300 of our employees across British Columbia are being affected by this strike, not to mention other communities which also depend on reliable rail service."

The strike has also been marked by division within the United Transportation Union.

The UTU's international headquarters in Cleveland dismissed four Canadian general chairs earlier this week amid allegations the ousted leadershad engaged in an unauthorized strike and had been trying to takeCanadian locals to the Teamsters union.

Chief negotiator sacked

Rex Beatty, UTU Canada's chiefnegotiator, was among those sacked. Two union vice-presidents, Robert Sharpe and John Armstrong, are now negotiating on behalf of the striking workers.

On Wednesday, Beatty issued a statement through the Canadian Auto Workers union, claiming CN had blocked conductors and yardworkers from returning to their jobs.

CN denied having prevented any of the strikers from going back to work. The company said about 340 union members have made themselves available for work in CN's eastern region.

"CN's longstanding corporate policy permits strikers who wish to return to work during a labour dispute to resume active employment with the company," said company president and CEO Hunter Harrison. "I want to stress that CN is neither encouraging nor soliciting striking UTU members to return to work."

Beatty, who initially led the union members to the picket lines, is now callingon the strikers to go back to work to avoid being legislated back to work. However,current UTU Canada officials have told their members to stay off the job until a negotiated settlement can be reached.

With files from the Canadian Press