BUSINESS
04/18/2012 07:15 EDT | Updated 06/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Hundreds of Direct Energy workers on strike after contract talks stall

TORONTO - Hundreds of Direct Energy workers walked off the job Tuesday night after contract talks between the company and the union broke off.

CEP Local 975 called a strike just before midnight after the company imposed work conditions.

The union said Direct Energy is pushing for "sweeping concessions," including wage cutbacks of up to 25 per cent.

"The company is refusing to pay a shift premium for evening and weekend work, which is when customers prefer to have their servicing performed," spokesman Dave Moffat said in a statement.

"While we don't want to leave customers in a situation without professional service, we are being forced into a difficult position by Direct Energy," he said.

The roughly 500 striking workers include service technicians, water-heater installers, and clerical staff.

Rob Comstock, Direct Energy's vice-president of Canadian services, said the company has made contingency plans to minimize the impact on customers.

"Customers who do contact us, who have a service need, will get service," he said.

Negotiators are committed to reaching a deal, he said, and will be heading back to the bargaining table this morning.

Workers have been in a legal strike position since March 30 and without a collective agreement for a year.

Direct Energy provides heating and cooling equipment services to more than one million customers in Ontario.