Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Via cuts 200 jobs in wake of budget

38 lost in Winnipeg with potential for more damage

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The union representing Via Rail employees in Winnipeg said they were "blindsided" by cuts announced by the government-owned passenger rail service on Wednesday.

"The union was totally blindsided on this. We were given no notice," said Dave Kissack, Canadian Auto Workers' union representative in Winnipeg, adding federal government cuts backed Via into a financial corner.

Via Rail expects to cut 200 unionized jobs or about nine per cent of its workforce, and will reduce services across the country, Via Rail CEO Marc Laliberte said in the city. Thirty-eight jobs will be cut in Winnipeg, but Kissack said more than 600 jobs in Western Canada could be affected.

"It's going to have an impact on over 600 people in Western Canada one way or another due to displacements and bumping, so we have to do what we can to mitigate the impact of that," said Kissack, adding protecting employees' seniority so they aren't moved to lower-level jobs is a priority.

Although the move comes in the wake of the federal government's March budget, which cut $41 million in subsidies to Via over three years, Via insists the trip reductions and job losses are driven by weak off-season demand.

But Jennifer Brown, president of CAW Local 4005, said demand is up 7.8 per cent since last year and nearly 25 per cent in the peak season.

"So where they're getting their numbers ,we don't know. I work on board and from January my trains have been sold out," she said.

Kissack said Winnipeggers will see an impact as Via tries to restructure.

"Ninety per cent of (Via employees) in Western Canada work out of Winnipeg and there's going to be a significant financial impact on the people of this city," he said.

Via workers said they are worried about the ripple effects of the cuts, regardless of whether they keep their jobs.

"Why does it seem that the people who always pay the price are the people who are holding this company together?" said a Winnipeg Via Rail employee, who didn't want to be named to protect his job.

Another Winnipeg employee, who's worked for Via for over two decades, said while he is not concerned he will be laid off, he's worried he'll be moved to a much lower position.

"It's very discouraging to take those steps forward and then be thrown back five steps," he said.

He added if his job was moved to a different city, he would have no option but to quit to keep his family in Winnipeg.

Via said it will not cut any whole routes and it is working to expand track capacity on the busy Montreal-Toronto corridor. The service adjustments will be rolled out between July and the end of October.

Trip frequencies are being cut on some of the big routes.

In the west, The Canadian -- a Toronto to Vancouver route -- will be reduced from three to two round trips a week in the off-season (October to April). Service during peak season will remain at three trips a week.

There will also be reductions in southwestern Ontario, where GO Transit and other services are available to commuters. London, Aldershot, Kitchener, Niagara Falls and other cities will see reduced Via service.

"In growing markets, we are adding more frequencies to meet customer demand," said Laliberte.

"In addition, mandatory services in regions where there are limited transportation alternatives will remain.

"We are not eliminating rail service on any routes where we operate today and we are maintaining the flexibility to adjust service levels in the future, as customer needs evolve."

Via notes it has reduced it management workforce by 15 per cent since 2009.

The Harper government's recent budget reduced subsidies to the passenger rail service by $6.5 million this year, $15.1 million in 2013-14 and $19.6 million in 2014-15.

jenny.ford@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2012 B4

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