SNC-Lavalin nuclear workers back strike mandate16 hours ago by Thomson Reuters

* Union members vote 94 pct in favor of strike mandate

* Union can strike with 72 hours notice

* Company says ready to talk, contingency plans in place

By Susan Taylor

TORONTO, May 4 (Reuters) - The union representing 870 scientists, engineers and technologists at SNC Lavalin Group Inc's nuclear reactor division have voted 94 percent in favor of a strike mandate, the latest challenge for the hard-hit Canadian construction and engineering company.

SNC, which acquired Candu Energy from the Canadian government last year for C$15 million plus royalties, is currently caught up in allegations of bribery and improper payments that are now being investigated by police.

The Society of Professional Engineers and Associates said on Friday that it can call a strike after giving 72 hours notice and could be in position to walk off the job as soon as May 7.

The unionized staff, who design and maintain electricity-generating nuclear reactors in Canada, China, Argentina, Romania and Korea, have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2010.

The union said that wages remain an issue and no talks are currently scheduled.

A spokeswoman for SNC's Candu Energy subsidiary said it is available to bargain with the union "at their convenience".

"Our goal is to negotiate collective agreements with SPEA, without a work stoppage, as soon as is reasonably possible," said director of communications Katherine Ward in an email.

"However, contingency plans are in place to ensure we can continue to carry on business in the event of a strike, to meet the needs of, and contractual obligations to our customers."

State-owned Atomic Energy of Canada had built and sold 34 reactors in Canada and abroad.