Atomic Energy of Canada employees vote for strike at Chalk River in July

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OTTAWA - Unionized engineers and scientists at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. have overwhelmingly voted to strike at Chalk River Laboratories.

The union members voted to strike at a recent meeting in Chalk River, Ont., following 12 months of negotiations to renew a collective agreement that expired June 30, 2011.

They will be in a legal strike position July 17.

"AECL is attempting to achieve a three-year contract with significant concessions on salaries and benefits," said Vince Frisina, chair of the Chalk River Professional Employees Group.

"Our members would see salary decreases in real terms over the life of this agreement. AECL has refused to extend the conciliation deadline which expires on June 25. This starts the clock ticking on the 21-day strike deadline."

The Professional Institute represents 700 engineers and scientists at AECL's Chalk River site.

AECL has long been a headache for successive federal governments. The Crown corporation has cost Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars and faced major cost overruns at key projects in recent years while struggling to find a buyer.

In May 2009, the Conservative government announced plans to spin off AECL's commercial reactor business from its research division. The announcement coincided with what turned into a lengthy shutdown of the company's Chalk River research reactor, which caused a worldwide shortage of the medical isotopes used to detect cancer and heart ailments.

The National Research Universal reactor was down for 15 months. There were times when it looked like the half-century-old reactor might never return to service.

An earlier shutdown in late 2007 also strained the global isotope supply and ended only after Parliament voted to bypass the nuclear safety regulator's closure order.

The government finally sold AECL's Candu nuclear reactor business to SNC-Lavalin in October for $15 million.

Since the sale of the reactor business, AECL has focused on its nuclear laboratories division, mainly in Chalk River and Pinawa, Man. The division, which has a staff of more than 3,000, manages nuclear waste, conducts research and produces medical isotopes.

Organizations: Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., Chalk River Laboratories, Chalk River Professional Employees Group Professional Institute SNC-Lavalin

Geographic location: Chalk River, OTTAWA, Pinawa

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