CN Rail signal workers strike ends, dispute goes to arbitration

By Félix Vincent Ardea
July 18, 2022

MONTREAL — After a lively two-week strike, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers officials decided July 5 to send the fight by some 750 Canadian National Railway signal and communications workers for higher wages and important changes in scheduling to binding arbitration. The workers had gone on strike across the country June 18.

Robert Reilly, executive vice president and chief operating officer at CN, said in a letter sent to all the strikers that the union has rejected an offer of “10 percent improvement to wages over three years.” But the IBEW explained this is a gross misrepresentation of the company’s real offer, which is an 8% increase, with a 2% one-time signing bonus. That’s just 2.7% a year, while the consumer price index in Canada rose 7.7% in May compared to the same month last year. The real rate of inflation — especially of necessities like food and gasoline — is much higher than that.

Strikers in Montreal had been picketing the different yards, but aren’t trying to shut them down. They received support from conductors and engineers going into work, who often stopped to talk, learn more about the strikers’ demands and offer solidarity.

The company sought to keep signal operations running by using management personnel and contractors as scabs in an effort to break the strike. “This should concern everyone,” IBEW International Vice President Russ Shewchuk said, “as it opens the door for unqualified people operating and maintaining our rail safety across Canada.”

In addition to the wages question, the company wants to force those assigned on “work gangs” to take assignments anywhere in a territory covering half the country. This could take them up to a day’s travel to get there and another day to return. “It’s not a good situation to be sent away wherever the company wants, whenever they want,” said Stephane, who’s worked at CN for 30 years. “It’s our families that suffer in this.” Stephane didn’t want his last name published for fear of reprisals.

“I think it’s important to show solidarity even if we don’t work in the same economic sector,” Aurelie Mcbrearty, a unionized nurse, told the Militant when she joined the picket line.

The signal workers were slated to return to their jobs July 6.

Félix Vincent Ardea is a train conductor at Canadian National and member of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Division 89.