Local workers and union members protested along the fenced property of the future Leon’s Furniture Tuesday, a response to what pickets say is a company refusal to use homegrown labour and materials.
About two dozen people marched around the property on Fort William Road to greet traffic just before 8 a.m. With homemade signs in hand, pickets asked both motorists and pedestrians to consider boycotting Leon’s Furniture.
"They are building in our city and they won’t hire local people, so how are they going to expect us to buy any furniture when they open up," said Glen Drewes, manager of IBEW Local 402. "I don’t think anyone from southern Ontario is going to come here and go furniture shopping. That’s what this is about – local labour versus out-of-city labour."
Unions have tried to open up a dialogue with the company, but Drewes said they have so far heard nothing. Tuesday was the first day that upset workers and union members organized to showcase their frustration, and Brews said there would likely be more if they didn’t hear a response from the company.
Officials with the furniture store announced late in 2009 that the retailer would be returning to Thunder Bay. Following an announcement regarding increased third-quarter profits, the company announced that it had purchased land in the city and planned to build a showroom and warehouse.
Local civil trades workers were hired for the project when construction first began, but Drewes said once mechanical jobs came in the local labour force was shipped out.
"Now when the meat and potatoes of the job, or the high dollar part of the job, is in it’s all from out of town," he said. "The other thing is that they are buying all the materials from out of town and shipping it here. That’s not fair either."
Rick Ead, member of Bricklayers Union Local 25, says the Leon’s Furniture project is a great opportunity to train young people just getting into the trades. He added that putting young people to work in Thunder Bay has been difficult recently because of its economic situation.
"There could be a chance here for one or two young fellows to pick up a bit of experience and that’s not happening," he said. "And that will not happen if these businesses come in and continue to bring in people from southern Ontario."
Officials with Leon’s Furniture were contacted by tbnewswatch.com, but could not immediately provide comment on the issue.
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