Thunder Bay

'A big number': 550 Bombardier workers in Thunder Bay to lose their jobs Nov. 4

The president of the union local representing Thunder Bay's Bombardier workers is calling on the provincial and federal governments to "get together soon" and help the local plant secure more contracts as the company announced it would lay off nearly half of its workforce in the city.

Union calls on federal, provincial governments to help plant secure new contracts

Bombardier has confirmed it will lay off 550 workers at the Thunder Bay, Ont., plant effective Nov. 4. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

The president of the union local representing Thunder Bay's Bombardier workers is calling on the provincial and federal governments to "get together soon" and help the local plant secure more contracts as the company announced it would lay off nearly half of its workforce in the city.

Bombardier confirmed Wednesday it would lay off 550 workers at its Thunder Bay plant effective Nov. 4. The news was also delivered by the company to employees at a town hall Wednesday morning.

"Today's announcement is not an easy one. However, we remain hopeful that we can secure new work to ensure the commercial viability of the important presence of a northern manufacturing plant," Eric Prud'Homme, Bombardier's head of public relations and communications for the Americas region, said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.

Prud'Homme said the layoffs are the result of the "cyclical nature" of the company's business, and the winding down of two major contracts: the creation of bi-level cars for the Metrolinx GO Transit service, and streetcars for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

Prud'Homme said the company has been speaking with the provincial and federal governments since the fall of 2018 about the "importance of our Thunder Bay plant" and the "role it plays in the community."

The statement also said that the company has been in negotiations with the province on a new agreement that would see Bombardier produce 36 new bi-level cars, but nothing has been finalized yet.

Prud'Homme's statement didn't indicate what effect that agreement, if signed, would have on the layoffs at the Thunder Bay plant.

Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino told CBC Radio's Superior Morning on Wednesday that the union has also been speaking to the federal and provincial governments "for quite some time."

"Everybody is aware of our problems here," he said. "We're going to run out of work. We need to get more work. This isn't the end of the layoffs if we don't get more work."

'A big number'

Workers at the plant told CBC News that they were disappointed to officially hear the news from company officials on Wednesday. Some said they weren't aware of how big the cut was going to be until media reports Tuesday night.

"It's a big number obviously," said Paul Butdin. "There's a lot of other people that are going to be affected other than just employees here, [like] families."

Butdin said he also wasn't surprised that layoffs were coming.

"The writing's been kind of on the wall for a while I guess."

Pasqualino said the plant needs "another large contract, whether subway, streetcar, or bi-level cars."

The GO Transit and TTC contracts are the only current jobs being done at the Thunder Bay plant, he said. However, those contracts will both wrap up at the end of 2019, and no further work has been secured.

"We've got three good products that we build here regularly," Pasqualino said. "Right now, we're ready to build more bi-levels and streetcars; those are the ones that are in action right now."

"Every day that we don't have a job secured, another big contract secured, that means that there's going to be another day that our people are going to be laid off."

The local plant has also run into issues over the rate at which it was delivering the TTC's streetcars. The company took longer than expected and missed some deadlines in delivering the cars over the past few years.

Pasqualino said the issues have been addressed, and the remainder of the cars will be delivered by the end-of-the-year deadline.

"They're getting into service faster than before," he said.

"We're still carrying the reputation of the past, but I think if you talk to anybody in Toronto that's involved in our streetcars, they'll say that we've been doing a wonderful job."

Federal, provincial politicians weigh in

The layoff reports also prompted strong responses from federal and provincial politicians.

"I am very disappointed to hear of layoffs at the Thunder Bay Bombardier plant," Patty Hajdu, the MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North and federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, said in a statement.

"It was just a few months ago that Doug Ford told the union president that there would be another contract coming," her statement said, adding that the Ford government "let these critical investments lapse," and "took over a year to open up the funding stream that could help Bombardier workers in Thunder Bay."

Provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath also called on the Ford government to step in.

"Our hearts are with the workers and families who are hearing about job losses, and are now left to worry about whether they'll be able to make ends meet in the months ahead," Horwath in a statement.

"This time, the province needs to fight for these jobs tooth and nail."

Provincial Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli, however, put the ball back in the federal government's court.

"Minister Patricia Hajdu is doing a disservice to her constituents by playing politics with the livelihood of Bombardier employees whose jobs are now at risk if the federal Liberal government does not quickly commit to funding the full federal share of Ontario's historic $28.5 billion transit expansion plan," Fedeli said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.

Ford also said he moved up a contract for GO Transit trains worth some $130 million to help keep the plant open.

Hajdu countered that the province has yet to submit an application to the federal government outlining a plan with "concrete details" for transit expansion.