Bombardier hopeful that striking Quebec rail workers will accept recommendation

MONTREAL – Bombardier is hopeful that rail-equipment workers in Quebec will accept a conciliator’s recommendation to end a month-long strike after a blitz of offers between the two sides over the weekend.

“We think that his recommendations are pretty realistic, they’re fair enough and I figure that for both parties this is where it should stop and we are optimistic that we could have the end of it and resume work,” spokesman Marc Laforge said in an interview Monday.

Laforge declined to provide details about the offer but said it fits within the framework of Bombardier’s offer that was soundly rejected by workers on Nov. 22.

“It’s all within the framework that was on the table and about being creative and see how you can work things out with what was there and also to try to meet the union’s preoccupations and also our own.”

Subcontracting, pension and salaries have been the key issues for the workers who have been without a contract since Sept. 30, 2011 and who have been on strike since Nov. 1.

The union representing about 330 workers at La Pocatiere, Que., said Monday that it will convey its recommendation to workers at a meeting Wednesday, whose time and location haven’t been disclosed. It declined to provide comment or details.

Conciliator Jean Poirier submitted his recommendation Sunday evening to the company and an affiliate of the Confederation of National Trade Unions after talks resumed last week.

Bombardier (TSX:BBD.B) characterized its earlier proposal as a generous offer that raises wages and pension benefits and contained a commitment to invest in new technology at the plant northeast of Quebec City.

It included a 12.5 per cent wage increase over five years, a $9-million pension plan contribution that would raise employee benefits by 18 per cent and a commitment to invest $3 million in new state-of-the-art laser welding technology that would return some jobs that were outsourced to the United States.

Laforge said work can resume as early as Thursday morning if the deal is accepted.

But he suggested there is little hope that the impasse could be resolved in the near-term if workers reject the conciliator’s recommendation.

“I think that we really got to the limit with the discussions and this is why the conciliator came in with his own recommendations feeling that both parties were at the end of it.”

Bombardier has insisted it will meet its commitment to deliver 420 Toronto subway cars and interior finishings for 706 Chicago transit cars. It also has contracts for 100 multi-level New Jersey transit cars, 54 multi-level cars for Maryland transit, along with nearly 500 Montreal Metro cars, which aren’t yet in production.

The union has in the past called on the company to respect terms of a 2010 letter of intent that would guarantee hundreds of jobs related to the Montreal Metro contract.

But Bombardier has a different interpretation of the work that must be completed at the plant, which is part of an integrated manufacturing model that has the best chance of succeeding against the competition.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Bombardier’s shares lost nine cents or 2.56 per cent, at $3.42 in afternoon trading.