June 11, 2010 / 9:49 PM / in 8 years

Via Rail workers approve strike mandate: union

TORONTO (Reuters) - Via Rail employees represented by the Canadian Auto Workers union have voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action if a new labor agreement is not reached with management by June 27 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time, the CAW said on Friday.

<p>A VIA Rail logo is pictured at the Gare du Palais train station in Quebec City June 9, 2010. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger</p>

The union represents more than 2,000 workers at Canada’s passenger rail service. It wants Via to drop its demands for concessions surrounding a host of issues, including scheduling, training wages and retirement.

The CAW said 94 percent of its members voted in favor of a strike if needed.

“It’s a passenger service that links the country, and the last thing that we want to do is disrupt that, and we’ll work damn hard, but it takes the wherewithal of the corporation to recognize and understand that this is not going to be open season on the union’s collective agreement,” Bob Chernecki, assistant to the CAW president, said in an interview.

Chernecki added that the union is concerned about routes being reduced, and said that Via is not being forthcoming about the issue.

Further negotiations are scheduled for Monday, June 21. in Montreal and will continue until the deadline, the union said.

Via Rail operates about 500 trains a week over 12,500 km (7,700 miles) of track across Canada.

Last July, Via service ground to a halt after mediated talks with the Teamsters union failed to resolve a contract dispute and locomotive engineers walked off the job.

The strike lasted only two days, but sent about 11,000 people who use Via daily scrambling to make new travel plans.

The CAW represents Via workers in the on-train and clerical services, including ticket vendors and maintenance.

Reporting by John McCrank; editing by Rob Wilson

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