THUNDER BAY -- Rumours of Bombardier pulling up stakes in Thunder Bay and fleeing to Mexico are unfounded, says company spokeswoman Stephanie Ash.
The company has no plans to leave Thunder Bay, despite a labour dispute that’s stretched to 10 days and left management scrambling to put the finishing touches on rail cars slated for delivery this year.
“Absolutely not at this time,” Ash said on Thursday. “The evidence shows we’ve actually doubled the workforce here in Thunder Bay in the last three years. The plant is at capacity pretty much in terms of employees and production. This is a really great plant for Thunder Bay. It’s a great plant for the company.”
However, Ash added, Bombardier has to be financially responsible and must consider cost containment in order to survive.
“There is a market reality that needs to come into play. We have to keep this site cost competitive. So part of the contract proposal and coming to an agreement with Unifor is making sure we keep this plant here in Thunder Bay competitive for the long term,” Ash said.
“It’s about bringing more jobs to Thunder Bay. It’s about bringing more business to Thunder Bay. Again, we don’t want to price ourselves out of the market.”
At the centre of the strike are benefits and pensions. The company wants to move away from a defined benefit pension, something union leaders say they refuse give up.
Talk of a move might be a moot point, if the company wants to continue doing business with Ontario municipalities. Under the proposed Bill 168, municipalities receiving grants or loans from the province to purchase mass transportation vehicles would have to ensure 60 per cent portion of the bid price for materials, overhead, labour and profit originates in Canada. Ontario already has lesser content regulations in place.
If the new bill passes, installation of propulsion control and cooling, braking, heating and air conditioning and communications equipment, motors, wheels and axles, suspensions, frames and energy sources for auxiliaries and controls must be completed in Canada.
It’s already passed first reading at Queen’s Park.
The company, which employs 1,400 in Thunder Bay, does have a plant in Kingston, Ont., but it would need capital investments to be able to complete the light-rail work being done in Thunder Bay.
Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino said moving the work to Mexico would be a mistake.
“I see the work that comes from Mexico and I don’t think it would be good for the Ontario consumer or public to ride on these cars if the cars are coming from Mexico,” he said. “We do a lot of repair work from Mexico. I think that it’s a bad idea. And I think it’s a bad idea for Bombardier.”
Pasqualino added the company got its current Toronto contracts based on the fact the work would be complete in Ontario.
“We are made in Canada and I think that maybe perhaps the Ontario government would look at a wider spectrum of buyers before they got a car again from Bombardier if they went to Mexico.”
Is he afraid it might happen though? He certainly is.
“It’s a possibility. Anything can be a possibility,” Pasqualino said.
Talks remain at a standstill, a day after the two sides finally agreed to picket-line protocols on Wednesday.
Pasqualino, who said he’s heard talk of management putting the finishing touches on rail cars scheduled for delivery, said no talks are scheduled.