THUNDER BAY -- Striking Bombardier workers may be headed back to the bargaining table on Tuesday. However the ongoing labout dispute has forced company officials to issue temporary layoff notices to other unionized employees not on strike.
Company spokeswoman Stephanie Ash made the announcement on Friday, and was also unable to confirm any talks were scheduled, despite Unifor Local 1075 negotiators saying they were told by Bombardier officials talks will resume early next week, aimed at ending what will then be a seven-week work stoppage.
"We had to announce yesterday and today that we will be doing layoffs of our Canadian Office and Professional Employees (staff). These are our white-collar employees ," Ash said.
"Unfortunately with the ongoing labour disruption they're going to have to have a temporary layoff."
About 150 COPE workers are employed at the plant.
"The layoffs will not affect everybody, but we will have a definite number of those that are affected for next week," Ash said, adding ending the strike has always been the company's priority.
Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino on Friday maintained he believes the two sides will be back at the bargaining table on Tuesday.
Though he stopped short of saying he’s optimistic, Pasqualino said any movement on the negotiation front has to be seen as positive.
“We’re happy that talks are scheduled,” Pasqualino said. “Now it’s important to find out whether the talks are going to be serious and whether they will offer us a fair offer.”
He’s not sure what will arise next week.
“I’m always an optimistic person, I’m always hoping for the best and my goal is to make sure that everybody gets back to work with a fair agreement.”
Union workers walked off the job on July 14, vowing not to accept the company’s demand to switch to a defined contribution pension plan from a defined benefit plan.
They were also upset that recently hired workers would lose benefits at retirement, instead given a $350 one-time payout.
Pasqualino said there are plenty of ways the company, which union officials say made in excess of $550 million in profit last year, without reducing benefits to its current workforce.
Union workers on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to reject the what Bombardier called its final offer, with 81.5 per cent rejecting the deal in a vote supervised by the Ministry of Labour.
At Bombardier vice-president Aaron Rivers said the company would step back and determine what its next steps might be.
On Friday company spokeswoman Stephanie Ash could not immediately provide comment, but promised to get back to media later in the day.
It’s good news, said Mayor Keith Hobbs, who has drawn criticism for earlier remarks he made about the ongoing labour dispute.
“I have to love this news,” he said via Twitter.
Pasqualino said his membership, for the most part, is holding up well.
“They are hoping for a settlement. I know that even though they voted not to accept that agreement, it’s not an indication they do not want to go back to work. They do want to go back to work. But I think it’s important they go back with a fair agreement.”
Asked if the pension issue could be a deal-breaker or if the union would be willing to find wiggle room, Pasqualino didn’t rule it out. But he said there are other options that must first be explored.
“Certainly we both have to negotiate a good agreement,” he said. “Our issue is what we have to do is to work toward cost savings. We understand there should be cost savings, but they need to work with the union.
“You can ask any of my members. They all know that there are a thousand ways of saving money without attacking their pension. And that’s where we need to go.”