10/14/2013 10:34 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

CN Rail Strike, Lockout A Possibility As Labour Talks Break Down

Labour negotiations between CN and the Teamsters union representing workers at the country's largest railway have broken down, and union leaders are warning that a strike or lockout could occur starting Oct. 28.

The workers' contract expired July 22 and conciliation talks broke down Oct. 7, according to the ​Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents 3,300 conductors, trainmen, yardmen and traffic co-ordinators.

The union said in a news release Monday that the Canadian National Railway Company has rejected its latest offer and refused to extend the mediation period.

Wages and the retirement plan are not key issues in this round of bargaining, the union said, but management has demanded concessions that would see CN employees working longer hours with less rest time between trips.

Such an approach "flies in the face of scientific research on fatigue management," the union said in its release, especially in an era when incidents such as the deadly Lac-Megantic derailment have underlined the importance of rail safety and when railways like CN have vowed to make safety their main priority.

"CN's managers have to walk the walk and talk the talk; they have to understand that people are not machines and that you should never place profits before people," said union spokesperson Roland Hackl.

Past disputes ended with legislation

A labour dispute at CN in 2007 disrupted freight service and impacted several industries that rely on the rail service, including agriculture and manufacturing. Conductors and rail yard workers, then represented by the United Transportation Union, went on a 15-day strike in February and were later locked out by management when they rejected a deal that ended the initial strike and began a series of rotating strikes in April.

The dispute ended with the government passing back-to-work legislation and appointing an arbitrator to impose a contract.

Back-to-work legislation was used again in 2009 to swiftly end a strike by locomotive engineers, who walked off the job after more than a year of failed contract negotiations when CN tried to impose a contract after the union refused to agree to binding arbitration.