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Talks continue to end strike at Canada's biggest railway as factories slow output

Credit: REUTERS/CHRISTINNE MUSCHI

Talks to end a strike by thousands of workers at Canada's biggest railroad, Canadian National Railway Co, continued on Wednesday, as industrial plants slowed output of products cut off from their markets.

By Allison Lampert and Rod Nickel

MONTREAL/WINNIPEG, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Talks to end a strike by thousands of workers at Canada's biggest railroad, Canadian National Railway Co CNR.TO, continued on Wednesday, as industrial plants slowed output of products cut off from their markets.

About 3,000 unionized workers, including conductors and yardmen, hit picket lines on Tuesday after talks with management failed to resolve contract issues amid softening demand for freight service. Negotiations in Montreal were "ongoing," Teamsters union spokesman Christopher Monette said.

The union's concerns center on fatigue, safety and ensuring that workers' breaks are not reduced.

Canada, one of the world's biggest exporters of farm products, relies on CN and Canadian Pacific Railway CP.TO to move crops, potash, coal and manufactured goods to ports and the United States.

In a letter to employees on Wednesday that was seen by Reuters, CN denied union arguments that the "strike was about safety."

"We offered the union a solution to address its concerns," said the letter dated Wednesday from CN Chief Operating Officer Rob Reilly.

CN could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Teamsters said it has pushed back against CN's efforts to limit the time off that their members get in a current contract.

The union is also asking to limit the use of so-called belt packs, a type of remote control that allow workers to control and move trains.

CN reiterated its desire for an arbitrator to settle the dispute, a step that the union has rejected.

"Arbitration would get you back to work in time for the holidays and we could all continue to serve our customers and the economy," Reilly said.

Industries that rely on rail service have urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to recall Parliament and pass legislation to end the strike.

But many said the economy was already feeling the strike's impact.

Plants that produce hazardous chemicals such as chlorine and sulfuric acid suspended production starting last weekend because those goods cannot be stored in cars on rail sidings, said Bob Masterson, chief executive of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada.

"That's lost business," he said. "The economy is a little soft right now. (The strike) comes at a very unfortunate time."

Some plants that crush canola into vegetable oil and animal meal have slowed production and reduced purchases of the crop from farmers, said Chris Vervaet, executive director of the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association.

He declined to identify the plants, but Canadian canola processors include Bunge Ltd BG.N, Cargill Ltd CARGIL.UL and Richardson International.

(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

((rod.nickel@tr.com; Twitter: @RodNickel_Rtrs; 1-204-230-6043;))

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