Via Rail makes contingency strike plans

Mon Jun 21, 2010 1:21pm EDT
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Via Rail Canada will run a skeleton schedule of train services across Canada if ticketing vendors and maintenance staff go on strike, the passenger rail company said on Monday, unveiling contingency plans ahead of a possible work stoppage next week.

On the eve of Canada's busy vacation season, Via Rail said in a statement that contract talks with 2,200 unionized employees had resumed and it was optimistic a deal could be reached ahead of Sunday's midnight deadline.

Via Rail provides intercity and cross-country service to about 11,000 passengers every day. The federally owned corporation also provides rail service to remote communities in Canada's North.

The employees, who provide services in Via's stations, telephone sales offices, maintenance centers and offices, as well as on-board trains, gave the Canadian Auto Workers union a strike mandate earlier this month.

Employees, who have been without a contract since December 31, 2009, are unhappy about issues such as routes being reduced and training wages. They will need to give Via Rail 72 hours notice of a strike.

If they do go on strike, Via said it will operate daily morning and end-of-day departures in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor and once-a-week service on most trains outside this route.

Via services in northern Ontario and on Vancouver Island would not be affected by a strike as they are operated by a third party.

Last July, Via service ground to a halt when locomotive engineers walked off the job. They are not part of this round of negotiations.

(Reporting by Nicole Mordant; editing by Rob Wilson)