'Layoffs are coming' at Thunder Bay Bombardier plant
Job cuts are expected in the fourth quarter as major contracts end, company COO says
Layoffs are coming to Thunder Bay's Bombardier plant, the company's chief operating officer for the Americas told CBC Tuesday. However, David Van der Wee says the company remains committed to the Thunder Bay operation and is actively working to secure new contracts for it.
Van der Wee spoke to reporters after addressing workers at the plant on Tuesday morning.
Two major contracts — one producing streetcars for the Toronto Transit Commission and one producing bi-level rail cars for the Metrolinx Go Train service — will come to an end at the end of 2019, and so far, no additional contracts have been signed, Van der Wee said.
The company also faces a new challenge in the form of pending changes to the United States' Buy American provisions, he said, which, under certain funding arrangements, will increase the percentage of transit vehicles that must be American-made.
Layoffs would take effect in the fourth quarter, Van der Wee said, but he would not say how many workers might be affected.
Company in talks with Metrolinx
"It is the obvious effect of the two contracts coming to an end," he said of the layoffs. "Also we need to understand that when you engage into a new contract, there's a whole big supply chain that's behind Thunder Bay, so they have to ramp up, and that takes time."
The company has begun talks with Metrolinx, Van der Wee said, and the transit service is open to placing additional orders.
Bombardier also plans to start new talks with the TTC, he said.
Asked how Bombardier intends to win back confidence in its brand after delays in the delivery of the TTC streetcar contract led to public criticism from the transit commission, Van der Wee said, "It's not about words. It's about performance."
"Today, for the last 18 months, every single quarter, we have met our commitment," he said. "That's the confidence builder. And the same has happened on the Go bi-level."
Van der Wee praised the Thunder Bay workers, noting that they doubled streetcar production yearly from 2016 to 2018 and doubled bi-level train production during the same period.
'Encouraging to a certain degree'
The president of Unifor Local 1075, the union local representing the workers at the Bombardier plant, called the meeting with Van der Wee "encouraging to a certain degree."
"Mr. Van der Wee assured us that his goal was to make sure that the plant stays viable and stays open," Dominic Pasqualino told CBC. "He specifically said that he wasn't here to put the padlock on the door in January."
Still, Pasqualino said, workers are anxious about the pending layoffs.
Bombardier is currently in a work-sharing agreement between the company, Unifor, and Service Canada, he said.
The agreement is an effort to minimize layoffs, and about 400 Bombardier employees are taking part, he said. Under the agreement, they work four days a week and collect employment insurance for the fifth day.
The company hopes to expand it to include another 200 or more people, he said.
Asked how confident the workers are that Bombardier will secure more work for them, Pasqualino replied, "I think it's a big concern."
"I think they know that Bombardier's doing everything it can right now and knows that the union's working there with them, but the big question is 'How long will that take?'" he said.
About 1,100 people are currently employed at the Bombardier plant, Pasqualino said.
Pasqualino is scheduled to meet with Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford on Wednesday.