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CN, union reach tentative contract deal

CN, union reach tentative contract dealA CN locomotive goes through the CN Taschereau yard in Montreal, Saturday, Nov., 28, 2009. Canada's largest railway has received notice that one of its major unions could go on strike as early as Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL - CN Rail and the Teamsters union have reached a tentative contract agreement, averting a potential strike by 3,000 workers that could have come as early as this weekend.

Both sides said late Wednesday that details of the three-year contract won't be released until it is ratified by union members.

Teamsters spokesman Stephane Lacroix described the negotiations as a "bit chaotic," but said CN came to the union with a series of proposals late in the day.

"As a result, we're very happy to avoid a strike this weekend," Lacroix said, adding he hopes union members will ratify the agreement this time.

Lacroix noted that Labour Minister Kellie Leitch's announcement that Ottawa was preparing back-to-work legislation in the event of a strike likely helped move things along.

He said union members will soon get to see the agreement and likely vote on it in the coming weeks.

The union's strike notice came days after Teamster members, representing conductors, train employees and yard workers, rejected a tentative contract reached last fall with CN (TSX:CNR).

The federal government had said it was prepared to intervene and force CN workers back on the job should they go ahead with a walkout, which could have come as early as Saturday morning.

Leitch said that a strike at Canada's largest railway would hurt farmers and the forestry sector.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall had called on Ottawa to step in before a strike even began.

In a letter to Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, Wall said a strike would be unacceptable at a time when farmers are already having trouble moving a bumper crop of grain.

"Our agricultural producers deserve better than to be held hostage by one organization at a time when there is already tremendous frustration with the rail system's failure to serve their needs adequately," the premier wrote.

CN said it transports about $250 billion worth of goods annually for a wide range of business, including natural resources and consumer goods.

A strike by competitor Canadian Pacific Railway (TSX:CP) in 2012 lasted just days before Ottawa legislated workers back on the job.

CN congratulated the union for averting a possible strike.

"This will ensure continued service to our customers in a very challenging environment where extreme winter conditions have hampered CN operations and affected service levels," said Jim Vena, CN's executive vice-president and chief operating officer.

"CN has offered to work closely with the union leadership to explain the terms of the agreement to union members over the next 45 days to help ensure a successful ratification of the agreement," Vena said in a statement.

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