CAW Questions Lay-offs and Cutbacks in Opening Negotiations with VIA Rail

October 26, 2012, 3:30 PM EST

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CAW opened negotiations with VIA Rail this afternoon in Montreal, raising concerns about recent lay-offs and route cuts.

"VIA Rail has suffered a number of very serious funding cuts from the federal government over the last few years, a situation that's getting worse, not better," said CAW President Ken Lewenza. He said that VIA Rail has failed to explain to its workers and to the public that route cuts and layoffs are the direct result of government funding cuts, which will undoubtedly harm the long-term viability of Canadian passenger rail services.

Lewenza called it embarrassing for Canada that the country has fallen decades behind in terms of rail infrastructure and technology. "How is it that countries like China, Brazil, and South Africa can build modern high-speed rail systems, but Canada cannot?" said Lewenza.

He said that the investment and jobs associated with building a high-speed rail system could do for this decade what the St. Lawrence Seaway did for the country in the 1950s - and become a source of economic growth for the nation.

Lewenza noted that worker productivity has increased by 10 per cent in the last two years alone, but members are feeling less secure and much more concerned about the future.

"VIA Rail must understand that our members will not be the scapegoats for Ottawa's poor, short-sighted policy decisions," said Lewenza.

The CAW is VIA Rail's largest union, representing approximately 2,000 workers in customer service, on-board service and maintenance.

The current collective agreements expire on December 31 at 11:59 p.m.

Two weeks ago, the CAW organized a national leafleting of VIA Rail stations and trains, asking customers to call on VIA and the federal government to reverse the cuts.

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