THUNDER BAY – A deal can be reached between Bombardier and its 900 local striking employees only if the union is willing to talk about compromises, says a company’s spokeswoman.
The primary point of contention between the Montreal-based company and members of Unifor Local 1075 during the week-long labour dispute revolves around concessions the company is said to be seeking from the workers.
Bombardier’s local spokeswoman, Stephanie Ash, on Monday said there seems to be some confusion from workers on the picket line about the conditions outlined in the company’s most recent offer.
One of the biggest issues is perceived changes to the pension plan of current workers.
“I can tell you that is absolutely not the case,” Ash said of whether the company is seeking changes to the pension plan.
“What we have proposed in the contract does nothing to impact or change the current pension plan of any of the employees working on the site today or on the picket line.”
However, Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino said while the changes might not affect current workers, he has to stand up against changes that will impact future members.
It’s an attempt to divide and separate the workers and it won’t work, Pasqualino vowed.
“I think what they’re doing for all new employees in going to a (defined contribution) plan, which is certainly going to divide the membership. The membership stands united. We don’t have second-class citizens in our workforce here so we all stick together on these issues,” he said.
For current workers the company is seeking concessions to their retirement benefits, as well as the eligibility for retirement, Pasqualino added.
Ash acknowledged the company is seeking some changes to retirement benefits in some cases but that most of the proposals have been taken out of proportion.
“There are some proposed changes related to benefits in retirement for people who choose to retire early, like 55 years. There is a contract proposal related to bridging for the people who choose to retire early,” Ash said.
“However, if you work with the company until 65 in a traditional retirement plan those pension and benefits will not be affected.”
There is no timeframe for when contract negotiations will resume.
The two sides are scheduled to meet later this week, though it will happen in a courtroom.
The company has filed an injunction against the union regarding picket line procedures, with the two sides to present their arguments on Wednesday.
Ash said the injunction was filed to establish a code of conduct and reducing the wait times for vehicles entering and exiting the Montreal Street plant.
Both sides attempted to work out a protocol agreement last week but those talks were unsuccessful.
The company is trying to ensure the safety of all at the site, Ash said.
“We have had several incidents that will be part of the injunction filing where people have come forward and reported threats to their safety in trying to get to work,” Ash said.
There are still close to 400 employees that must get across the line and report to work.
Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino said he doesn’t think the injunction will be successful.
“Our lawyers feel the company has a very weak case,” Pasqualino said.
He is also concerned an injunction would limit the number of people on the picket line, making it easier for the company to bring replacement workers into the plant.
Ash quickly dismissed the notion of the company hiring replacement workers.
“At the current time there are no plans to bring in replacement workers,” she said. “This is not what this injunction is about. This injunction is about safety and making sure everybody is safe when they are crossing that picket line.”
Mayor Keith Hobbs visited the picket line to meet with workers. As a former union president during his time as a police officer, Hobbs said he sympathizes with the workers.
He hopes to see a quick resolution at a plant that he calls a “great economic driver” for Thunder Bay.
“I would really encourage management to sit down with the union and hammer out a deal that’s good for the union and good for the city,” Hobbs said. “Long, protracted strikes aren’t good for anyone, especially for the people out here who hope to feed their families.”