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Unifor wants urgent meeting to discuss pending layoffs at Bombardier Thunder Bay plant

As a war of words continues over who is responsible for hundreds of layoffs at a Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay, the head of Unifor on Thursday called for an urgent meeting to hammer out a plan on the way forward.

All parties involved should immediately come to the table to discuss solutions, Jerry Dias says

Unifor National President Jerry Dias is concerned that if the Bombardier workers are not given a definite timeline for planned layoffs, they might leave Thunder Bay to search for employment elsewhere. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

As a war of words continues over who is responsible for hundreds of layoffs at a Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay, the head of Unifor on Thursday called for an urgent meeting to hammer out a plan on the way forward.

Bombardier confirmed Wednesday it would lay off 550 workers at its Thunder Bay plant effective Nov. 4. 

Unifor National President Jerry Dias said on Metro Morning Thursday that rather than pointing fingers, all parties involved should immediately come to the table to discuss solutions.

"We need to get everybody in a room, we need to take a look at what the requirements are and we need to get with it," Dias said.

"There's going to be layoffs in November, there's no way around it, so the question becomes how long? Are people going to be laid off for four months, six months, a year, 18 months, two years? If people are going to be laid off for an extended time they are going to leave the community and they're going to get jobs in different industries."

On Wednesday, federal Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, who represents the Thunder Bay area in Parliament, said in a news release that Ontario Premier Doug Ford "sat on his hands and made empty promises" about projects that would have given the workers more items to build and help stave off the 550 layoffs — roughly half of the plant's total workforce.

But Ford fired back, saying the province has a $28.5-billion plan to expand transit but Ottawa hasn't come through with a financial commitment of its own to support that work. In addition, Ford said he moved up a contract for GO Transit trains worth some $130 million to help keep the plant open.

"I haven't seen hide nor hair from the federal government," Ford said. "Where is their money? They've done absolutely nothing to support these people in Thunder Bay. We have a plan sitting there that can keep these people employed."

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

With the layoffs looming, Dias said it's time to get beyond the blame game.

"There's a lot of blame to go around all over the place. We've been raising this with both levels of government for over a year, so the fact that the announcement of 550 layoffs comes as a shock to them, I find unbelievable," he said.

"There's real solutions if we can get everybody in a room. I can't believe we're talking about the largest employer in Thunder Bay and I can't get the federal government, the provincial government, the company and myself in a room to say 'OK, what does it look like?'"

Dias is concerned that if the Bombardier workers are not given a definite timeline for the layoffs, they will start searching for employment and some might even leave the area.

"Clearly there has to be a plan. We know that the TTC needs 60 LRVs, we know that with the $28.5 billion-infrastructure announcement that they need all kinds of subways. We need the rockets, so there's all kinds of work to save this plant but you've got to get everybody in a room and a plan to say 'here's what it looks like,'" he said.

"When the work is inevitably awarded, which it will be, you are not going to have skilled workers in order to assemble the trains. So that's why there needs to be a plan and we need to know it quickly," he said.

With files from CBC's Metro Morning and John Paul Tasker

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