Mines unscathed after strike ends

Local coal mines are breathing a little easier after Canadian National (CN) Rail and its 1,700 engineers in the Teamsters union ended a five-day strike last Wednesday afternoon (December 2). Both Peace River Coal's Trend Mine and Western Coal's Wolverine mine are totally dependant on the rail company to transport their coal to market.

The strike affected all CN rail operations in Canada, and began last Saturday (November 28) after breakdowns in talks between CN management and the engineers, who have been without a contract since December 31, 2008. CN resumed operations late last Wednesday night.

The short length of the strike meant "no material impact" to Western Coal's mines in northeast B.C., said company spokesperson David Jan.

"Throughout the disruption of service, Western has maintained normal operations at its mines," he said. "With the resumption of services, the company expects to meet all its customer commitments."

All CN engineers are now back to work, and the company is "working as quickly as possible to get our freight operations back to normal," said CN spokesperson Mark Hallman, who declined to comment on the impact of the strike on specific industries.

The deal may have been reached more quickly in part because of the back-to-work legislation introduced by the federal government last Monday (November 30). The impending strike had led Peace River Coal CEO and general manager Glen Koropchuk to send a letter to federal Minister of Labour Rona Ambrose on November 27.

"It is my understanding that the rail system will be shut down or at least severely disrupted by this potential strike that is scheduled to begin in the next day,"wrote Koropchuk. "Without rail service we will miss critical shipments in December and potentially be forced to stop operating because the logistics chain to our global customers will be severed."

CN was proposing increased work loads for their engineers along with a 1.5 per cent raise, with no retroactive pay increase since the last contract ended. CN has since agreed to roll back their proposed 4,300-mile monthly travel requirement for engineers. The union had argued that move would cause layoffs and mean seven-day work weeks for some engineers.

While the federal bill is no longer needed, Ambrose will stay involved by appointing federal mediators to help finalize outstanding issues. Issues of wages, benefits and work rules may still go to binding arbitration. The strike proved to be briefer than the last large-scale strike by Canadian CN employees, which took place in February 2007, when 2,800 conductors and yard workers went on strike for 15 days.