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The Globe and Mail

VIA Rail and union steer closer to strike

A Via Rail Canada passenger train pulls into Dorval Station in Montreal, in this July 22, 2009 file photo.


With a looming midnight strike deadline, the impasse between VIA Rail and the Canadian Auto Workers union continued Thursday afternoon, following the rejection by the union of a broad proposal by VIA on increased pension contributions and other concessions which the CAW called a "recipe for disaster."

"It was designed to create a labour dispute," said CAW national representative Brian Stevens midday Thursday. If no agreement is reached, the union is prepared to go on strike at midnight Thursday evening. VIA said it has contingency plans to keep its trains running, which would result in most routes continuing service, but with economy class only. Some smaller stations that are normally manned would have no attendant on duty if the strike proceeds.

Full details about ticketing and station services and schedule changes in the event of strike can be found on this VIA website. The CAW represents approximately 2,000 VIA workers across Canada, primarily ticket clerks, safety and maintenance workers and on-board attendants. VIA said it will man these jobs in the event of a strike with management workers, experienced in these jobs. Locomotive drivers are represented by Teamsters Canada and aren't involved in these labour talks.

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Mr. Stevens of the CAW pointed to various, key sticking points, such as higher pension contributions that VIA is asking workers to pay. These could result in union workers paying an additional $1,000 or more per year in mandatory pension contributions. However, VIA has a pension deficit of $419-million, which the company is trying to lower. Meanwhile, the elimination of employment security benefits and the likelihood of more job cuts were also top issues for the union.

VIA's president and chief executive Marc Laliberté said the company presented a "fair and reasonable offer," including two-per-cent wage increases in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and the maintenance of existing benefits and better work rules. "This offer, in particular the parts related to pensions, will help ensure the sustainability of both our company and the pension plan. And that's in the long-term best interests of our employees," Mr. Laliberté said.

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