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Mon, Mar 25, 2002 - Page 21 News List

Bombardier workers reject offer

BLOOMBERG , MONTREAL

Workers at Bombardier Inc's aerospace division voted almost unanimously to reject an offer from the world's No. 3 aircraft maker for a five-year contract, and granted their union the right to call a strike.

About 98.2 percent of the 6,203 Bombardier workers on hand voted to give the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers the right to call a strike, said IAMAW Local 712 President Michel Lauzon. About 99.5 percent rejected the Montreal-based company's contract offer, he said.

The votes don't mean a strike is imminent. Starting Monday, Lauzon said workers at the company's Dorval, Mirabel and St. Laurent plants would refuse to work overtime and may begin rotating walkouts, depending on how talks evolve. Combined, the three Montreal-area factories employ about 8,000 people.

"The message is clear for the company," Lauzon told reporters after a union meeting at the Montreal Congress Center.

"They're going to have to start negotiating for real. They make a lot of profits, and we too want our share."

Aerospace accounted for C$1.2 billion (US$761 million), or 72 percent, of Bombardier's pretax profit in fiscal 2002. Bombardier is the world's third-largest plane producer after Boeing Co and Airbus SAS, and the largest producer of small commercial jetliners.

Union representatives want a three-year agreement that raises the hourly wage by C$1, the equivalent of 5 percent a year.

Bombardier is offering a C$0.66-an-hour raise over five years, the union has said. The workers now make about C$21.50 an hour on average, according to union figures.

Union negotiators also want Bombardier to reduce the retirement age to 58 from 60.

Lauzon wouldn't say when a strike might begin.

"We won't let them take advantage of us for long," he said.

Bombardier spokeswoman Sylvie Gauthier said the company is confident it will find an agreement with its workers.

"We're disappointed, of course, but the vote is part of the negotiating process," Gauthier said. "We're going to return to the bargaining table on Monday and start over again."

A full strike at the Montreal-area facilities might affect Bombardier's production of short-haul jetliners, which accounted for 165 of the 370 planes that the company delivered in the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31.

Chief Executive Bob Brown said on Tuesday that Bombardier plans to deliver 190 of the regional jetliners this fiscal year. He said then he didn't expect a strike.

Bombardier's old collective agreement with the workers expired Nov. 30. Negotiations began in August.

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