By David Bush
Barring a last minute agreement nearly a thousand workers at the Bombardier rail plant in Thunder Bay are set to hit the picket lines Monday at 2pm. The workers, who are unionized with Unifor 1075, voted almost unanimously in favour of a strike.
The main issues that are preventing a deal is Bombardier’s insistence on concessions when it comes to benefits and pensions. The company wants to change its current pension plan from a defined benefits to a defined contributions plan. This concession would mean workers would face an uncertain retirement as their pension would turn from a predictable income to a plan that is subject to the ups and downs of the market.
“If we don’t get movement at the table we are prepared to strike. We feel highly supported here. Thunder Bay is a union town.”
The president of Unifor local 1075, Dominic Pasqualino spoke to RankandFile.ca. He said “the pension plan is funded 1 billion dollars stronger this year as opposed to last year. It seems to be funded fairly well. And I don’t think this should be an issue.”
In 2011 the workers at the Bombardier rail plant in Thunder Bay went on strike for 26 hours over a similar issue. Pasqualino stated in 2011 that the company’s demand to take away drug benefits for early retirees provoked the strike.
Bombardier employees over 65,000 workers and posted a profit of 113 million in its lasted reported quarter. And it is no stranger to strikes elsewhere in Canada. In 2012 the company also went after workers’ pensions and benefits at its rail facility in La Pocatière, Quebec. The workers at that facility struck for a month to beat back the concessions.
One of the major issues in the industry is holding on to skilled workers, who make up roughly ten percent of the workforce in the Thunder Bay facility. Lengthy industrial disputes and contract concessions means that many skilled workers are likely to move out to Alberta. This would be a blow to the industry as a whole.
Thunder Bay and Ontario transit
The Thunder Bay rail plant is a vital facility to Ontario’s rail transportation industry. The plant produces GO rail cars, TTC subway cars and the brand new street cars in Toronto. The roller coaster that is the GTA’s transit plan has created uncertainty in the industry. As a result the union follows Toronto municipal politics very closely. Pasqualino stated, “Rob Ford has been a thorn in our side. We hope that we get a government in Toronto that supports transit. We are hoping for Olivia (Chow).”
The union is ready to strike to beat back the concessions. Pasqualino said, “If we don’t get movement at the table we are prepared to strike. We feel highly supported here. Thunder Bay is a union town. ”