Striking Bombardier rail workers vote to accept conciliator's recommendation

MONTREAL – Bombardier rail-equipment workers in Quebec have voted to accept a conciliator’s recommendation for a new collective agreement that would end a nearly five-week strike.

Union members gathered at a meeting in La Pocatiere, northeast of Quebec City on Wednesday night and voted 82.2 per cent in favour of accepting the recommendation.

The result means the 330 workers who have been without a contract since last September could resume work as early as Thursday morning.

The union representing the workers said the new deal includes a 1.5 per cent salary increase for the period from Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012 and a one per cent retroactive lump sum for the same period.

The new contract also includes two per cent annual wage increases for the next three years and a 2.5 per cent wage increase for Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016.

Bombardier said this week it hoped the workers would accept conciliator Jean Poirier’s recommendation that was issued Sunday 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 had said the new deal fit within the framework of an earlier 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 were key issues for the workers who were without a contract since Sept. 30, 2011 and who were on strike since Nov. 1.

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

The union noted Wednesday night that it had made gains on the employee pension plan.

Meanwhile, Bombardier Transportation suffered two losses at the hands of France’s Alstom, its partner on the Montreal metro contract. Two consortiums it was part of failed to secure contracts for the $2.1 billion Ottawa light transit rail project and the $5.8 billion railway contract in South Africa.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Bombardier’s shares closed down five cents or 1.5 per cent to $3.28 in Wednesday trading.