As It Happens

Ford, Trudeau gov'ts should quit 'bickering' and save Thunder Bay jobs: union president

End of the line. Bombardier announces it's laying off half the workers at its Thunder Bay train car plant, and the local union rep says that if politicians don't get their act together, the other half will be gone soon.

'They need to put their differences aside ... and start signing some contracts,' says Dominic Pasqualino

Dominic Pasqualino is the president of Unifor local 1075 in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)
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Transcript

Dominic Pasqualino is telling Thunder Bay, Ont., plant workers that if they get a job opportunity somewhere else, they should take it.

The president of the Unifor local 1075 is responding to the news that manufacturing giant Bombardier is laying off 550 workers — roughly half the workforce — at its Thunder Bay plant effective Nov. 4. 

The company cited U.S. "buy America" policies for the layoffs, as well as the fact that the plant's two primary contracts — with the Toronto Transit Commission and the provincial Metrolinx GO Transit service — are due to expire at the end of 2019.

The federal Liberals blame the provincial Progressive Conservatives for failing to deliver on transit projects that would have helped the plant, while Premier Doug Ford points the finger back at Ottawa for not lending financial support to his $28.5-billion transit expansion plan.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, meanwhile, says the city needs help from both the province and the feds to purchase more streetcars. 

But for Pasqualino, the news is about jobs — his job and the jobs of the workers he represents. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Robyn Bresnahan.

What are people saying today on the shop floor?

They're upset, as they would be. But this, like I said, is not a surprise to them. Some people have already left looking for more solid work, I guess you could say. There are some other opportunities.

But clearly when Thunder Bay's largest private sector employer Bombardier slows down dramatically, there's not enough work in Thunder Bay for all these people.

Bombardier makes streetcars for Toronto, but the contract expires at the end of 2019. (David Donnelly/CBC)

You've been waving the red flag about this for some time now. I'm looking at a story back from November when you were warning that the plant was going to run out of work within a year. Was anyone listening?

They said they were listening, but they haven't done anything about it. So that's our dilemma.

I've talked to the federal government. I've talked to the provincial government. I've talked to whoever I could from Thunder Bay city ... but at the end of the day, we don't have anything signed.

I mean, if they hear or they don't hear, that's not the issue. The issue is to have their pen in hand and put some ink onto the paper and then we can start planning for a future. Right now we don't have a future.

How does that feel?

It feels awful. I'm an older guy. I've been working here for the plant for 32 years. For me, my time has ended. But I have a lot of young families in here. A lot of these families, the employee here is a single-wage earner for them. I've been in those situations before. I've been laid off from this plant for over a year two times. It hurts.

You're doing whatever jobs you can do. And you don't know whether you should be waiting for Bombardier to call you back or whether you should be looking for another career, or maybe even choosing a different location. 

Considering you have been through this before, what are you saying to those employees, some of whom might be the only single earners in the family?

I tell them the same thing that I would have told myself back then. If there's another opportunity and you think it's good, you'd be denying your family a secure future by not accepting it. So you've got to look at those options.

I really am upset that it has come to this because I feel even when I was laid off that it was unnecessary. I believe it's unnecessary now because I think that Toronto doesn't have all the cars it needs to survive. It's the fastest growing community in North America. We need to be increasing production.

I know as a fact, it's a business thing, that the more cars you order, the cheaper the cars are. So you need to be looking at really large orders right now. That secures our future and also secures a good price for the cars, and it solves the problem in Toronto. It's a win-win-win situation.

So why aren't there enough contracts coming in?

I don't know. I suspect that is a little bit of conflict with the new government. 

You're talking about the Doug Ford government here.

Yes. Ultimately, it is the provincial government.

Why the Doug Ford government? Because certainly the provincial government is quick to point the finger at the federal government. They're actually blaming each other. So why are you holding the provincial government responsible?

I'm not holding one over the other. All I'm saying is that the longer that the provincial and the federal governments bicker, every day that they do that and they don't sign a contract, that means one more day longer my people are going to be out of work.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, blames the federal government for the layoffs at the Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay, Ont., while federal Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, right, says Ford's own government is responsible. (Chris Young, Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

What does that say to you about politics?

Politics has never been an easy thing. It's difficult. But at the end of the day, I think that they need to put their differences aside and be the man of the people — as Doug Ford has on his desk, you know, "For the people" — and start signing some contracts so we can get our people back to work.

Do you think with a federal election coming up, there will be more impetus to get these two governments talking?

Generally speaking, in the past I found that when an election was happening that seems to be when they are a little bit more generous. But the way politics changes day to day, I really don't know what'll happen.

It doesn't matter to me. All I care is that my people are going to be able to bring their lunch pail to work and be able to collect a cheque every two weeks. And it doesn't look like that's happening right now.

You said this is the end of the line for you. What are you going to do?

I'm going to be 61 this year. I've been working in the plant for 32 years. I've been a union president for eight. My term runs up in the end of May of next year. I can easily retire right now.

On top of that, I've been a dialysis patients since 2015, so I could have been off since 2015 on a disability. I'm not off on a disability right now because I really do care about the plant and I hope that I can leave this plant flourishing. I'm having my doubts about whether that's going to happen.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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