THUNDER BAY -- Bombardier could be looking at bringing outside help into the city’s plant as the labour dispute with Unifor Local 1075 approaches four weeks.
A Bombardier lawyer on Thursday told a court hearing that the company has no plans to bring in replacement workers, but immediately admitted that Bombardier employees from other locations could be brought to the Thunder Bay plant.
Company spokeswoman Stephanie Ash on Friday said it is common for employees to travel and visit other Bombardier facilities to lend expertise, and that Thunder Bay staff had done the same in the past.
However, that does not eliminate the possibility of those imported workers performing the tasks that had been previously done by the now striking Unifor employees.
“Not necessarily, but we’re also not ruling that out. There’s always that possibility,” Ash said when asked if the employees would be coming in a replacement worker capacity.
“It’s more related to if there are specific areas of expertise we feel we don’t have that we feel are needed to continue production.”
Ash said at this time there is no timeframe for when the company might start bringing workers into the Montreal Street plant.
The local president of the union representing the 900 striking members disputes the claims that the company does not have any firm plans for when workers will arrive.
Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino said rumours are circulating among the membership that two specialists will be on their way to Thunder Bay for testing the current management is not equipped to do.
“We’re upset at that,” Pasqualino said. “We weren’t happy with management working on the cars but this is bringing it up to a new level.”
That would be just the beginning of people coming in until there is a full workforce, he added.
Making the announcement does not mean bringing in outside help is imminent nor was it meant to spark fear into the striking Unifor members, but rather to serve as a courtesy and a sign of transparency and good faith, Ash countered.
“It’s basically to say we’re not ruling out the fact we might need to ask some of our partners in our other sites to come in and help us out if the need arises,” she said.
“We’re trying to be open and honest about the realities of this labour disruption and the impact it has on the customer. We will be continuing production to the best of our abilities.”
There was another dispute on the line Friday morning, as the company prepared to ship out a completed light rail car.
Pasqualino accused the company of not properly notifying the union, adding they were trying to sneak the car out the side Neebing Avenue gate.
Ash said the union was told of the impending move of the Rocket car during a Tuesday meeting, and that moving the car by road is not covered in the protocol agreement. Only rail-transported cars require 72 hours of notice to the union.
Attempting to ship the cars out of the Neebing Avenue exit would be a safer option than out of the primary Montreal Street gates, she added
However, the union denied that request and the company will go ahead and is planning to remove the car out of the plant through the Montreal Street exit later Friday.
The two sides had met on Wednesday, which Pasqualino said was a step forward. He is concerned the possibility of bringing in outside workers and the conflict over moving the car may jeopardize the momentum.
Ash said there is currently no timeframe for when negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement will resume.
They are also awaiting a judge’s decision over the picket line protocol.