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Bombardier surprised by worker vote in Quebec

An employee works on the underside of a commuter rail car at the Bombardier Transport plant in La Pocatière Que.

JACQUES BOISSINOT/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Bombardier Transportation says it is surprised that workers at its rail plant in La Pocatiere, Que., have ramped up pressure tactics ahead of conciliation talks starting Tuesday by voting to go on strike if necessary.

Workers have been without a contract since Sept. 30, 2011, and so far no deal has been reached despite 37 negotiating sessions.

They decided almost 96 per cent in favour of giving their leaders authority to call a strike in a vote held Saturday.

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Outsourcing, pension plans and wages are among key issues still outstanding, the union says.

But company spokesman Marc Laforge denied the union's claim that outsourcing has reduced the plant's work force, which totals nearly 600, including 370 union workers.

He says work is assigned to plants to meet local employment requirements of the tender contracts and specialties of the plants in its network in Quebec, Ontario, the United States and Mexico.

Mr. Laforge says workers will be hired as the unionized work force increases beyond 400 next year as work increases on a string of transit contracts in Montreal, Toronto and the United States.

Although former premier Jean Charest claimed that 775 people would be hired to supply the $1.3-billion Montreal Metro contract, Mr. Laforge says Bombardier has never confirmed that number.

That level of employment suggests a production rate that far exceeds what is needed to deliver 468 subway cars at a rate of one every two days.

In addition to the Metro contract, the La Pocatiere plant is working on the front section for 420 Toronto Rockets, the interiors for 706 Chicago transit cars, 100 multilevel New Jersey transit cars and 54 multilevel cars for Maryland transit.

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However, contracts to build the New York and San Francisco subway cars will be done south of the border to meet requirements supporting local jobs in the United States.

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