Via Rail 'optimistic' that CAW strike will be avoided

The CAW has issued a 72-hour strike notice to Via Rail, meaning workers will be in a legal strike position Thursday, but the union says workers won't walk off the job until June 14 if a deal isn't reached.

Union issues 72-hour notice but says 2,000 workers won't walk out before June 14

Via Rail employees, members of the Canadian Auto Workers union, will be in a legal strike position as of Thursday but the union is giving the railway until June 14 for them to reach a deal. (Canadian Press)

The Canadian Auto Workers union has issued a 72-hour strike notice to Via Rail.

The union, which represents about 2,000 customer service, on-board service and maintenance workers, will be in a legal strike position as of Thursday.

The union says workers won’t walk off the job if a deal can be reached by June 14, with a 12:01 a.m. ET deadline, and Via Rail officials say they remain optimistic that an agreement will be reached in time.

"Via Rail is determined to reach new collective agreements with its employees represented by CAW before the legal work stoppage date," the national rail passenger service said in a statement.

"Via Rail will continue to be fully functional and provide the same level of service, on-time departures and arrivals, on-board quality service and safety to its passengers, employees and the public as it normally does."

CAW to become 'Unifor'

The CAW and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions will officially merge on Labour Day weekend and become Unifor.

The two unions announced their new name in Toronto at the end of May.

Contract talks have been ongoing since October.

Union members voted 94 per cent in favour of a strike if necessary.

'Frustrations and insecurities'

The union said CAW president Ken Lewenza and the bargaining committee met with Via Rail executives Monday.

He says the high strike vote reflects the frustrations and insecurities felt by union members.

"This is a direct result of a drop in federal funding and Via's so-called 'modernization' plan which has seen routes cut, stations closed and de-staffed. This plan is not the path to modernizing Canada's passenger railway services," Lewenza said in a release.

He said the bargaining committees are looking for a fair settlement with Via Rail that will recognize their efforts on the job.

In a statement, federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said she remains "focused on the parties coming together to get a deal themselves" and that a mediator remains available to assist both parties.

"The minister continues to encourage both parties to come to an agreement as the best decision in any dispute is the one the parties make themselves," the statement said.

With files from CBC News