Thunder Bay Bombardier strike could last a long time, analyst says

The Bombardier strike could last for quite a long time, according to a labour analyst who says members of Unifor showed solidarity by voting down the company’s offer last week.

Unifor members voted down an offer by the company this week

About 900 Unifor members employed by Bombardier have been on strike since July 14. (Josh Lynn/CBC)

The Bombardier strike could last for quite a long time, according to a labour analyst who says members of Unifor showed solidarity by voting down the company’s offer this week.

Marvin Ryder, assistant professor of business strategy at McMaster University, said that both sides appear to be digging in their heels with no sign of wavering in the immediate future. 

“It is interesting that Bombardier seems to be taking this very strong line, and so I don't think this is a case of one side's suddenly going to cave in,” Ryder said. “I think you're into this now for probably another month, two months, three months. This could well go on until Christmas.”

Unifor Local 1075 said its members, who have been on strike since July 14, turned down the offer by a vote of 81 per cent.

The vote held last Tuesday was ordered by the Ontario Ministry of Labour after an application from Bombardier.

Marvin Ryder, assistant professor of business at McMaster University predicts the strike could continue for at least a few more months as Unifor members remain loyal to their union. (Courtesy Marvin Ryder)

The union said the company's demands for concessions would hit all workers and retirees enrolled in the company's benefit plan.

It said the current defined benefit pension plan would be denied to new hires and 500 workers would be denied their right to retirement benefits.

In addition, the union said the offer would have meant the outsourcing of several jobs at the plant had it been accepted.

"These results send a clear message to Bombardier that the membership of this union supports its bargaining team," said Unifor president Jerry Dias.

Jobs in Thunder Bay

According to Ryder, the response from Bombardier saying it will now make “tough decisions” on meeting customer contracts may shows that the company may be prepared to send some of its Thunder Bay work elsewhere for the duration of the strike.

"Reading between the lines, it does seem like Bombardier says 'our first priority is to fulfill these orders at all cost, but not necessarily from the Thunder Bay facility,'" Ryder said.

"They do have to keep a minimum 25 per cent Canadian content to meet many of the contracts that they have, so there will have to be a certain amount of work done in Canada, but they're looking right now to see if they can farm some of that out to their other facilities and not hurt those contracts going forward."

This is why a spokesperson for the business community in Thunder Bay is urging the two parties to resume contract bargaining.

“Certainly this ongoing strike is a real concern for the business community and the overall economy...We want both sides to get back to the table, we want them to find an agreement so that we can move forward,” said Chamber of Commerce president Charla Robinson, adding that the city is suffering economically during the strike.
Charla Robinson, President of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, said the strike is a "real concern" for many businesses in the city. (Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce)

Robinson said Bombardier is one of many companies around the world that are struggling to find efficiencies in a competitive market, but that the company’s impact on Thunder Bay’s economy is obvious from the numbers.

Besides the jobs at the plant, she said the company supports 2,300 spinoff jobs in Thunder Bay and that over 300 local suppliers were paid nearly $35 million for orders from Bombardier last year

“I think we should all be very concerned,” Robinson said. “To think of our economy without those jobs and without those supply chain opportunities and the spinoff jobs, it's a real concern.”

However, despite all that, Ryder doesn’t think people should fear that the company will pack up and leave Thunder Bay.

"Is it possible? Yes,” he said, “Is it probable? No. I don't think that's likely.”

He said Bombardier has a "good healthy book of business" at the plant and "can't see them walking away from Thunder Bay as a place to do business."

Meanwhile Mayor Keith Hobbs said he doesn't think there's been enough bargaining between the union and the company.

Keith Hobbs said both sides need to sit down and really bargain, because that hasn't happened yet.

“The company has got multi-millions, and millions of dollars, billions of dollars in contracts from the province of Ontario and they need to put Ontario workers to work getting those cars built. And that would be Thunder Bay workers,”

Hobbes said when you get an 81 per cent “no” vote that sends a pretty strong message.

With files from The Canadian Press