THUNDER BAY -- Now is not the time for 900 striking workers at the city’s Bombardier plant to back down from their stand against proposed concessions.
That’s the message union leadership gave to members of Unifor Local 1075 at a Monday morning rally at city hall, one day before those workers will cast ballots in a Ministry of Labour mandated vote on the company’s best and final offer.
Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president, said a resounding refusal will force the company’s hand, meaning they’ll have to play ball.
“I would suggest this is a last, desperate attempt to instill their way and if in fact they don’t get their way they’ll have to have some serious negotiations,” Dias said.
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Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino is confident his membership will stand up and refuse the offer, and which will see new hires switched to a defined contribution pension plan and eliminate early retirement benefits for workers hired within the past four years.
That ultimate goal is to get back to work, he said.
“People are upset they’ve been on strike for so long and they want this to end but not on those terms,” Pasqualino said.
Bombardier spokeswoman Stephanie Ash over the weekend accused the union of spreading false information about the offer. The company has been running newspaper and radio advertisements promoting their proposed contract.
Dias called out Bombardier for the publicity push, saying the pressure to switch the pension plan and cut the early retirement plan while spending money to attempt to lobby the workers was a “hypocrisy.”
Pasqualino accused the company of trying to break the union.
The labour dispute, which reached the six-week mark on Monday, has been growing increasingly contentious with both sides becoming frustrated with each other’s refusal to compromise.
However, the national president, who was making his second visit to the city since the strike began on July 12, said any talk of the company packing up and abandoning the Thunder Bay plant is preposterous and is only being used to instill fear into the workers.
The skilled work force and lucrative contracts are too valuable to leave behind, he argued.
“Give me a break. That’s a normal scare tactic you hear everywhere. If you listened to that argument every time it was made there wouldn’t be a manufacturing job in Canada. It’s a non-sense argument,” he said.
The rally started at city hall and then concluded following a short march to the office of Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro.
Mauro, as well as Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle, have drawn the ire of the union for a perceived lack of support to the striking workers.
“We are upset the Liberal government has not even talked to us. They came around at election time demanding our vote and now they are nowhere to be seen,” Pasqualino said.
“We think this not only affects Bombardier workers in Thunder Bay but Toronto, where they have made a lot of promises to have 30 minute GO service.”
Mauro was in his office when the demonstrators arrived and came out and gave a brief speech.
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He said it was not the place of elected officials to get involved in a labour dispute with a private sector company, though the impact it has had on the city is concerning.
“We also know something as large as (a plant with) 1,400 employees, our largest private sector employer by far, has ripple effects throughout the community,” Mauro said in an interview inside his office.
Mayor Keith Hobbs, the former union president of the city’s police association, addressed the rally at city hall and called on management to return to the table and accusing the company of not properly bargaining.
Local union leadership will be hosting meetings later Monday and early Tuesday morning ahead of the vote to answer any questions the members have about the deal.