Unifor representatives, striking Bombardier Transportation workers and supporters rallied in front of Thunder Bay City Hall on Monday to demonstrate solidarity against the company's latest offer.
Bombardier has called in the Ministry of Labour to hold a secret ballot vote for workers on Tuesday. The company took out a full page newspaper ad on Monday addressed to "valued Unifor members," presenting highlights of its contract proposal and urging workers "to consider the offer details with your family and vote YES to return to work."
But standing in front of a crowd of more than 200 people at the rally — many waving red Unifor signs — the union's national president, Jerry Dias, called on Thunder Bay workers to stay the course and vote against the offer.
"You see these two young kids in the wagon? You see these two young boys on their bikes? You see the kids all over the place?" Dias shouted through a megaphone. "We're here because ... they should be able to retire as residents of Thunder Bay with a defined benefit pension plan."
The rally took on a political flavour as Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs voiced his support for the union — along with that of councillors Andrew Foulds and Iain Angus — in front of the cheering crowd.
"This is more than just a contract," Hobbs said, who represented his union when he was a Thunder Bay police officer. "This is about work in Canada, work in Ontario."
"I've been criticized for siding with the union before," he added. "And I don't really care."
Bombardier's spokesperson in Thunder Bay, Stephanie Ash, said it was "surprising" that Hobbs made those comments.
"We have met with him in previous weeks to talk about the strike and what a labour disruption could potentially mean for Thunder Bay and this business here in Thunder Bay," Ash said. "He was very supportive of the company and expressed his concern that the city wanted to have a good relationship with Bombardier Transportation in Thunder Bay."
"However, it's an election time," she added. "We all know that people are looking for votes. And if that's his choice to take the side of the union, we can't really do anything about that."
Ash said the union's claim that the new contract proposal is no better than what was on the table when it went on strike six weeks ago is "absolutely not true."
"There is a cost-of-living fold-in ... increases to salaries ... [that] actually works out to a 6.5 per cent increase over three years," she said.
But Unifor has repeatedly said the key issue is maintaining the defined benefit pension plan that current workers enjoy for future employees.