By Euan Rocha
TORONTO, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Talks between the railroadworkers' union and Canadian National Railway Co havebroken down, raising the possibility of a strike or a lockout byOct. 28 at the country's largest railroad operator, the unionsaid on Monday.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), whichrepresents some 3,300 conductors, trainmen, yardmen and trafficcoordinators, said the company rejected the union's offer toextend conciliation talks that ended on Oct. 7.
"We're extremely disappointed by CN's refusal to extend themediation period," Roland Hackl, a spokesman for the union, saidin a statement.
The union said the talks have stalled over CN's demands for concessions that would force workers to work longer hours withless rest time between trips. Wages and the retirement plan arenot central issues in this bargaining round, the union said.
The union said the company's demands fly in the face of itsstatements about safety being a priority.
A CN spokesman said the company does not comment on thesubstance of ongoing labor negotiations, but stressed that CN'sbargaining proposals would not in any way compromise the healthand safety of TCRC members.
CN remains optimistic it can negotiate an amicablesettlement with the TCRC to avoid labor disruption in Canada,the spokesman, Mark Hallman, said in an email.
Hallman also noted that the company has comprehensive safetyprograms in place designed to prevent accidents.
Rail safety has become a hot-button issue in Canada thisyear after a disaster in July when a runaway tanker trainderailed and exploded in the middle of the small town ofLac-Megantic, Quebec, causing 47 deaths and hundreds of millionsof dollars in damage.
The accident prompted Canada to toughen its safety standardsfor railways earlier this year.
Last May, the Canadian government stepped in to force an endto a strike that shut down the freight operations of Canada'sNo. 2 railroad operator, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd,as the strike impacted shipments of grain, coal, fertilizer,autos and other goods.
The strike at CP last year occurred after 4,800 unionizedlocomotive engineers, conductors and rail controllers walked offthe job over the company's plan to cut pension payments.
It is unclear whether the federal government would step inand pass back-to-work legislation if a strike or lockout occursat CN Rail.
- Labor Issues