The Ontario Northland Transportation Commission says a lockout of workers from its remanufacturing and repair division is necessary to reach an agreement.

The lockout, which affects 195 train and bus mechanics, becomes official on Saturday. But workers are already on the picket line in North Bay, Cochrane and elsewhere.

Ontario Northland President and CEO Corinna Moore said the company's shop is at risk of losing some work, because it can't bid on jobs without a collective agreement in place.

"We need to see urgency and we were hoping that we would have the union leadership that would understand that urgency and right now we have current opportunities that are at risk and we need to move forward and get a collective agreement in place and we feel that this the way to do that," she said.

Moore said the decision to lockout the workers, who are only a portion of the 350 who have been without a contract since 2013, was based on the union's refusal to present the company's final offer to the membership.

Unifor Local 103 President Andy Mitchell told CBC News a different story. He said the company had scheduled another round of talks for Friday. He said he was shocked to get notice Wednesday morning that 195 of his members were being locked out.

"It took us by surprise," Mitchell said. "Why, on Remembrance Day, would you want to pick a fight? Nothing surprises me, I guess, from the management they have there now."

Nevertheless, Mitchell said Unifor remains "hopeful" for an agreement.

"I don't see how locking out employees gets you any closer to an agreement, but we're going to meet the company Friday and present a proposal to them."

But Moore said that for Ontario Northland to transform and meet its target of breaking even in 2018, it needs to have its unions on board.

"We've been very successful negotiating changes with our other two union groups and we need to conclude negotiations with Unifor as well. It's time to move forward and improve Ontario Northland," she said. 

ONTC management says its priorities for discussion include:

  • Trade flexibility (i.e. allowing multiple trades to work together, as required to significantly improve the efficiency of our Remanufacturing and Repair Division).

  • Changes to benefits that align with other Ontario Northland agreements and public service standards.

  • Elimination of/Changes to employment security provisions within the agreements.  (Currently, the collective agreements provide for 14 years of job security for senior employees.)

Meanwhile, freight, motor coach, and passenger rail (Polar Bear Express) transportation services will continue to operate as scheduled.