Canadian National Railway and Unifor are set to resume contract talks Monday in the face of a threat by the company to lock out nearly 5,000 employees.

Statements from both sides said there were high-level discussions on Sunday and the two sides have agreed to continue talking.

The railway said Friday it intends to lock out the 4,800 mechanical, intermodal and clerical workers represented by Unifor at 11 p.m. ET Monday unless the union agrees to binding arbitration to settle contract differences.

The union, which has announced plans to begin a strike vote next week after the failure of five months of negotiations, rejected the company ultimatum.

On Feb. 14, Unifor reached an agreement with Canadian Pacific Railway after a one-day strike. That deal made a number of improvements, including rail safety and working conditions.

Leitch welcomes resumption of talks

A statement from federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch on Sunday made no hint of such a move in the CN talks. It only said Leitch has been in touch with both sides and welcomed the resumption of negotiations.

She said both sides have promised that commuter rail service in Montreal will not be affected by any work-stoppage.

On Friday, Fanie St-Pierre of the AMT, the Montreal area’s commuter train service, made a similar statement.

However, a lockout would affect train inspectors — and that could stall service on the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line, which serves 31,000 passengers every weekday.

“The trains can’t run if they’re not inspected,” St-Pierre said Friday.

Five months of failed talks

The union, which has announced plans to begin a strike vote next week after the failure of five months of talks, quickly rejected the company ultimatum but said it was prepared to negotiate this weekend.

“If they want to lock us out, they can lock us out,” Unifor president Jerry Dias said in an interview Friday.

CN gave the union 72 hours’ notice of a lockout and moved to unilaterally impose terms of a new collective agreement Friday that included wage increases of two per cent.

In announcing the planned lockout, CN chief executive Claude Mongeau said the two sides won’t get any closer amid a month-long strike mandate process.

CN wants Unifor to focus on terms of a collective agreement that applies to its employees, rather than to match terms of a recent settlement with Canadian Pacific Railway, which included a number of improvements such as rail safety and working conditions.

“Our complete settlement offers to Unifor … are fair, competitive and fully in line with the amicable contract renewals that we have recently bargained with four other unions at CN, including the Teamsters,” Mongeau said in a release.

“They would also maintain Unifor-represented employees working at CN among the highest paid in their trades in the Canadian rail industry.”

But Dias said CN is objecting because it wants a cheaper deal than CP obtained.

“They’re a huge, huge wealthy Canadian company that’s [acting] like a schoolyard bully … the tactics just aren’t going to work. If CN wants to lose their customers because of their own foolishness then I guess they have the right to do that.”