Manitoba farmers 'relieved' after CN Rail and union reach tentative deal

A Manitoba farming advocacy organization says it's relieved a tentative agreement has been reached between CN Rail and a union that represents rail workers to renew the collective agreement for more than 3,000 railway workers after a week-long strike.

CN's normal operations will resume Wednesday at 6 a.m. local time across Canada, Teamsters Canada says

CN workers walked the picket line at Symington Yard on the morning of Nov. 19. A week later, the union and CN Rail announced a tentative agreement. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

A Manitoba farming advocacy organization says it's relieved a tentative agreement has been reached to renew the collective agreement for more than 3,000 CN Rail workers after a week-long strike.

Bill Campbell, the president of Keystone Agricultural Producers of Manitoba, says farmers in Manitoba were already starting to feel the effects of the strike.

"We had started to see some of the repercussions of this strike with regards to job layoffs and economic impact to this country. And so … the rail union and CN getting together and getting a tentative agreement is very relieving," he told host Marjorie Dowhos on CBC's Radio Noon Tuesday.

Teamsters Canada, the union representing the rail workers who went on strike Nov. 19, announced the tentative deal on Tuesday morning.

A statement from CN Rail said staff would return to work at 2 p.m. Tuesday, with normal operations resuming Wednesday at 6 a.m. local time across Canada.

The railway workers went on strike after raising worries about long hours, fatigue and what they considered dangerous working conditions.

CN rejected Teamsters Canada's claim that the strike concerned workplace health and safety, suggesting instead that it was about worker compensation.

Campbell says the fact the strike didn't drag on longer is good news for farmers.

"We were seeing the impacts on other industries with regards to the CN strike, but I think we would've seen agriculture impacted significantly if we would've carried on much longer," he said.

'One of the worst years that I remember'

John Preun, who farms grain and hogs near St. Andrews, Man., faced some of those difficulties personally.

"This is one of the worst years that I remember in my entire career of farming. I've never seen anything this bad, where we've gone from a drought, to an unconfirmed tornado, to a drought, and then just a deluge of rain when we didn't need it anymore," he said.

"It's one of these things where you say 'What next? What can go wrong now?' [The strike] just put us behind," he said.

Preun says his farm is about a month behind schedule because of weather events and the strike.

He's relieved it's over now and he can get back to business.

Campbell said he was worried the strike would continue until Dec. 5, when Parliament reconvenes, and might involve the federal government implementing back-to-work legislation.

"I thought there would be significant impacts at that point in time," he said, including transport and job cuts, as well as further effects on prices.

Katie Ward, president of the National Farmers Union, was also happy to hear about the tentative deal.

"It's fantastic news," she told CBC News Tuesday.

"[The strike] happened at a difficult time, but at the same time we recognize safe working conditions should be the norm for workers, no matter what industry they're in," Ward said.

"We're very happy to see that the democratic process works and that folks were able to get back to the table."

Details of the agreement, which must be ratified by union members, were not immediately available. But François Laporte, president of Teamsters Canada, told The Current's Laura Lynch the agreement is a step in the right direction.

"We are feeling much better today because we were able to reach an agreement that is going to be ... a good agreement for our members. It will bring back respect for our workers," Laporte said.

"And more importantly, we will have language that ensures the health and safety of our members in a workplace. That was our priority."

He added further discussion is needed on the conditions that led them to strike in the first place, though.

With files from The Canadian Press


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