THUNDER BAY – The union representing striking Bombardier workers found a new target of their frustrations Friday.
A small contingent of pickets migrated from their usual position on Montreal Street, and demonstrated instead outside the Court Street offices of Firedog Communications. The local public relations firm has been hired to represent Bombardier, which has caught the union’s attention during its recent labour dispute.
Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino said he harbours no ill will toward Firedog CEO and lead strategist Stephanie Ash, but said it was time to send a message that the union was not happy with how the company’s representatives have been portraying the labour dispute.
“We feel the statements that have been coming from Stephanie Ash have been misleading or untrue. We feel she should look at some of the facts,” Pasqualino said.
“I know it would be difficult for her to get the truth because it’s not the actual people at the bargaining table on the company’s side speaking. It’s a consultant.”
When reached later in the afternoon Ash said demonstrations come with the territory, but was disappointed to be singled out.
“It’s my job to represent the company we work with,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate the union chose to target me personally in this but that’s their choice and they’re obviously upset about the situation and it’s their right to express their feelings.”
Thunder Bay Police Service officers responded to the protest. Pasqualino said police encouraged the workers to leave because their dispute was not directly with Firedog. The union complied.
The last straw the union came when local media outlets reported Thursday a tentative agreement regarding strike protocol had been reached. Pasqualino said no such agreement has been reached.
He believes any potential miscommunication could be avoided by simply having members of the company’s negotiating team responsible for communications. It would also be cheaper.
“Bombardier is saying they need to cut costs and we think they can save a lot of money by having the people from the bargaining side on the company come to the media and eliminate the middle man by having Stephanie there,” he said.
With no picket line protocol agreement, the company has gone ahead and filed an injunction.
Ash said it was the company’s understanding was the union would meet to review the proposed protocol by noon but had not done so, prompting the filing.
The company has expressed concern for the safety of the 400 employees who still must report to work at the Montreal Street plant.
Employees still reporting for work include management and those who perform administrative and engineering roles.
The picket line has been busy since the close to 900 Unifor workers, who are responsible for building the light rail cars, walked off the job Monday afternoon.
City police officers have been routinely patrolling the line and controlling traffic.
Buses have been routinely blocked from entering the facility and employees, such as management, have had to park their vehicles and cross the line on foot.
In related news, Bombardier announced Thunder Bay and Rocket head of operations Aaron Rivers was named as the company’s Americas head of operations, expanding his role beyond Thunder Bay to include all sites in the United States, Mexico and Brazil.
The move caught Pasqualino by surprise, who said he was “disappointed” considering the current state of affairs at the one facility Rivers was overseeing.
“He has all this trouble in Thunder Bay and he hasn’t been able to solve any problems at this point in time. Now they have him in control of all the Americas. I think that’s a bad sign for Bombardier,” he said.
Negotiations towards a new contract have been at a standstill since last weekend. The company continues to seek pension and benefit concessions from the workers while the union is refusing to back down.