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Reuters, Published February 05 2014

Canada's CN rail receives strike notice from conductor's union

TORONTO - Canadian National Railway Co said on Wednesday that the union representing roughly 3,000 of its train conductors and yard operation workers in Canada has given the company notice of its intention to strike as early as Saturday.

The strike notice comes just days after the tentative labor contract reached last year with CN, Canada's largest rail operator, was rejected by union members.

A strike at CN could disrupt a vast cross-country network that ships goods ranging from lumber to crude oil, and grains to chemicals.

CN, which negotiated the deal with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference - Conductors, Trainpersons and Yardpersons (TCRC-CTY) in October, met this week in Montreal with union leaders to discuss how to proceed.

The union has given the company 72 hours' notice, so workers could go on strike as early as Feb. 8.

A prolonged strike could be averted however, if the federal government uses legislation to force workers back to the job.

Canada's government has been quick to intervene in recent years, ordering unionized staff at railways and airlines back to work several times to avoid major disruptions.

Union members have "a lot of mistrust" with CN, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference General Chairman Roland Hackl told Reuters on Monday. He said members were being made to work 12 hour shifts, despite asking to be relieved after 10 hours.

Hackl said more than 60 percent of workers who voted had rejected the tentative deal last week.

The labor issues at the company come at a time when rail safety is under scrutiny both in Canada and the United States, following a series of derailments across the continent that have caused deaths and evacuations, due to oil spills and fires.

The most serious accident occurred in July 2013, when a runaway train carrying crude oil exploded in the heart of Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

The amount of crude being shipped by rail has surged over the last few years as oil production exceeds pipeline capacity.

Last month, CN said its railroad's safety record in 2013 improved 9 percent, even as it dealt with a series of high-profile derailments, including two in New Brunswick in January. One train caught fire and burned for days.

CN Rail shares were up less than a percent at C$59.14 in early trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.