About 5,000 BCE technicians in strike position

TORONTO, March 17 Mon Mar 17, 2008 5:03pm EDT

TORONTO, March 17 (Reuters) - About 5,000 technicians at BCE Inc (BCE.TO) are in strike position after rejecting a contract offer from Canada's biggest telecom company, their union said on Monday.

The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada "now has a strike mandate, meaning that a work stoppage is legally possible upon 72 hours notice by either side," it said in a statement.

It also said it has contacted BCE about resuming bargaining talks as soon as possible. The employees work in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and voted 88 percent to reject the labor deal, the union said.

"Our goal is to negotiate a fair deal for our members and to avoid a strike or lock-out," said CEP president Dave Coles.

In a separate statement, BCE said it was disappointed its four-year offer was rejected. It said the proposed deal included annual wage hikes, and preserved pension, benefits and job security.

"It also included changes to the previous collective agreement to reflect changing customer expectations," the company said, without giving details.

It said it is ready to enact backup plans if needed and is evaluating its next steps.

BCE is in the process of being sold to a group of private-equity investors led by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan in a C$34.8 billion ($34.8 billion) buyout.

($1=$1 Canadian) (Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Rob Wilson)

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