THUNDER BAY — Signal and electrical workers employed by Canadian National Railway in the Thunder Bay area have set up a picket line at CN's yard on Broadway Avenue.
Seven local employees, plus others who travel to work remotely throughout northwestern Ontario, have joined a nationwide strike by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers that started on Saturday.
The union members are responsible for the upkeep of signalling and switching equipment trackside and at railway crossings, of which there are 31 in the Thunder Bay area.
CN says it is continuing operations under a contingency plan that allows it "to maintain a normal level of safe rail operations... and serve its customers for as long as required."
Zac Stuart is an IBEW member who maintains signals on the main line in the Auden area north of Lake Nipigon.
He said he's not privy to how the company intends to do the union's work, but said "Let me put it this way. If there's four or five union members [doing the work] and now you have one supervisor, he's going to be very busy this summer. Very, very busy."
With regard to the contract negotiations, Stuart said, "We've kind of come to a gridlock with the company. We're asking for reasonable wage increases to keep pace with comparable trades. We're having a hard time getting that. We're not willing to accept less."
According to CN chief operating officer Robert Reilly, the company has "met or exceeded" every one of the union's demands, including a 10 per cent wage hike over three years.
In a letter to employees, Reilly also said CN has met the IBEW's request for improved work schedules to ensure two consecutive days off.
Under current practice, after five days on the job, workers can still be on standby for one more day before getting a day off.
A union negotiator responded that the railway's claims about the contents of its last contract offer are misleading.