Thunder Bay

Province steps up with $613K for Bombardier workers

An action centre for laid off Bombardier workers was officially opened Friday in Thunder Bay.

New action centre will help 550 laid off employees secure new jobs

MPP Jane McKenna cuts the ribbon at the new Bombardier Labour Action Centre in Thunder Bay. Ontario will provide $613,430 to help laid-off Bombardier workers get the support they need to find work. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

An action centre for laid-off Bombardier workers was officially opened Friday in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Several municipal and provincial politicians joined local union leaders to launch the new centre on Gore Street West, which will be used to serve the 550 workers losing their jobs at one of Thunder Bay's largest employers.

Ontario will supply $613,430 to help the laid-off workers get the training they need to find work.

"It's a very sad situation, but we want to make sure we are supporting the good people of Thunder Bay," said Jane McKenna, the MPP for Burlington and the parliamentary assistant to the minister of labour, training and skills development, who was on hand Friday to cut the ribbon for the centre's official opening.

"A lot of your self worth and self identity comes from a job, so it is heart breaking."

McKenna noted that layoffs not only impact the workers, but their families and the community as a whole.

Earlier in November, 122 people were laid off at the Bombardier plant. An additional 174 are expected to be out of work in early December with 120 more to follow two weeks after that.

Iain Angus is the chair of the Bombardier Labour Adjustment Committee overseeing the centre.

Iain Angus, the chair of the Bombardier Labour Adjustment Committee, says for many Bombardier was their first, and only, job. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

It's an organization, he said, that was pulled together by the Ministry of Training, Labour and Skills Development to provide supports for the workers who are losing their employment at the plant.

The centre has a broad mandate to serve the laid-off workers and their families and will provide a wide range of supports, Angus said. That will include how to write a resume.

"For a lot of these people, Bombardier was their first job," he said. "They came out of school – whether it was high school or college or university – and they haven't been in the field, really. We've got to help them build a resume – then how to dress for an interview, how to prepare for an interview."

The centre, Angus said, will also be helping the workers map out the skills they have, both as workers at the plant and in their personal lives, in terms of volunteer activities and other sidelines.

Then they will help connect the people with organizations like Youth Employment Services (YES) and Northwest Employment Works (NEW) that provide supports around job search.

The stress of changing careers and losing a long-term job can also be addressed through the labour action centre, Angus said.

"We will have mental health workers and counselors available," he said. "This is not just for the workers; it is for their families too.So we want to provide whatever supports that we can to assist them [to go] from being an employee at Bombardier to an employee at somewhere else."

Angus noted the ages of the employees being laid off varies, although he said he understood that the first layoff was made up of mostly younger workers, "two, three or four years working at the plant out of school." However, he said that older workers have also been laid off.

"There is another cohort that used to work in the forest industry that are in their 60s," he said. "So there are really two different sets of challenges that we need to work at. "

Dominic Pasqualino, Unifor Local 1075 President, said the action centre is crucial to help the laid-off workers and their families.

The layoffs are devastating for both the workers and the community, said Dominic Pasqualino, the president of Unifor local 1075.

However Pasqualino is happy the action centre is in place to help the laid-off workers to find other jobs, he said.

"I am glad that the support is here,"he said. "This certainly wasn't available the times that I was laid off. Out of my 32-year career here, I've been laid off twice for a year at a time. And those are awful feelings. You don't know if you are coming back . You don't know what jobs you can pick up."

Pasqualino hopes the centre can help skilled trades people find jobs that will keep them in Thunder Bay until more work comes back to the plant, he said.

However, he said he knows some highly skilled people have already left the city due to the layoffs.

"It has happened already," he said. "I've been looking on Facebook, and there are some of my key people. They have packed up, they have moved, and they are going on. And the community is at a loss for that. I can't stress enough how disruptive the layoffs are."

Pasqualino is still hopeful that more contracts can be found for the plant, and that the workers can be recalled, he said.

Bombardier announced in July that a total of 550 employees, or close to half the workforce in Thunder Bay, were expected to be off the job by 2020.

The layoffs have come as the plant nears the end of its two remaining major contracts with the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx.

Pasqualino is urging laid-off workers to use the action centre.

"It gives the people a few more choices," he said. "It's not the best option.The best option is to go back to work. But it's the best option available to us right now."

The Bombardier action centre is located at 112 Gore Street West in the UNIFOR Local 1075 office. It's open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.