Signals and communications workers at CN Railway in Canada ratified a new 5-year contact at the end of April, beating back company demands for concessions and ensuring stability for the more than 700 IBEW members through 2021.

The ratification came just a month after the conclusion of a tough round of negotiations between Railroad System Council No. 11 and Canada’s largest railway, which saw a last-minute agreement reached only after members supported a strike mandate by a remarkable 99 to 1 margin.

“CN approached us asking for a lot of concessions,” said Railroad System Council No. 11 Senior General Chairman Steve Martin, a member of Sudbury, Ontario, Local 2039. “And before we’d even sat down at the bargaining table, they moved to bring in federal conciliators. That was pretty unusual in our history with CN, so we knew what we were in for and prepared early on to request a strike mandate.

Among the concessions CN sought was the ability to move workers out of their home region for 90 days at a time, a non-starter for IBEW negotiators. The company also demanded more shift flexibility to cut down on overtime and right of selection on certain jobs.

The IBEW’s signal and communications workers at CN in Canada work across five regions in eight provinces, spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. The railway operates trains in the U.S. as well, where 200 IBEW electricians operate under a separate contract.

“I’m happy to report that we were successful in fighting off every one of those efforts,” said First District International Representative Luc Couture. “They asked for a lot of things that would have disrupted people’s lives, but our members stuck together and got CN to back down.”

Key to the pushback was members’ overwhelming support for the strike mandate, which Martin filed with the company in the early hours of March 17. That morning, CN’s chief operating officer showed up to the negotiating table, and on March 21, with just eight hours left before workers walked out, a deal was struck.

“Was it a perfect deal?” Martin asked. “No, but there are no perfect deals. Our members who understood how successful we’d been in keeping what we had voted yes, and we’re happy to have an agreement that keeps things stable through 2021.”

In the end, the new contract will run retroactive from Jan. 1, 2017 through the end of 2021. It provides for 2 percent raises in the first three years and 3 percent increases in its final two years.

Couture and members of the negotiating committee spent the month of April traveling to meetings with CN workers across Canada explaining the finer points of the contract before the ratification vote. He described the meetings as hectic, but helpful in presenting the difficult choices negotiators were forced to make.

“Of course we would’ve liked to have seen other improvements to the collective agreement,” Couture said, “but with the concessions they were demanding, we think we got the best deal we could, and in the end the majority of our members agreed. We’re glad to have this resolved for the next five years.”

CN Railway workers represented by the IBEW in Canada belong to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2002; Montreal Local 2003; Kingston, Ontario, Local 2010; Brantford, Ontario, Local 2019; Moncton, New Brunswick, Local 2024; Edmonton Local 2049; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Local 2050; Sudbury, Ontario, Local 2052; Quebec City Local 2054; Kamloops, British Columbia, Local 2055; Prince George, British Columbia, Local 2057; and Thunder Bay, Ontario, Local 2058.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Peter Morgan.