By Gerard Di Trolio
Striking workers at Bombardier’s assembly plant in Thunder Bay have taken their struggle to the streets of Toronto to make sure people across Ontario understand their situation. A number of information pickets will be set up in the coming days at several subway and GO Transit stations as well as Bombardier’s aerospace facility in Toronto.
The union is trying to tie the issue that investing in public transit in Ontario should lead to good paying jobs in the province. “Good transit should lead to good jobs,” says the piece of literature being handed out by members of Unifor Local 1075.
Local 1075 has been out on strike since July 14, and has only had two hours of discussions with Bombardier. Unifor Local 1075 President, Dominic Paqualino, described the single two hour meeting as being Bombardier simply asking if the union was ready to accept concessions.
Management at Bombardier is attempting to roll back the benefits that once made manufacturing jobs in Ontario attractive and allowed a good quality of life. Pensions are a major point of disagreement between Bombardier and Local 1075.
Bombardier is trying to force new hires and those with less than five years on the job to accept defined contribution pensions in place of the old defined benefit pension plan along with retirement benefit cuts. Approximately 70 per cent of Bombardier’s staff of 1100 in Thunder Bay would fall into this category.
“There is no guarantee I will have said money there when I retire,” says CJ Hamlin, a worker with less than four years at the Bombardier plant when asked about the defined contribution pension “It’s at the fluctuation of the market,” he says.
What makes this strike unique is that the disruption of Bombardier’s operations in Thunder Bay will soon be felt in Toronto. Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant is responsible for assembling both the new TTC subway cars and new streetcars. The TTC has been advertising that the new streetcars are supposed to enter into service at the beginning of September.
Bombardier is trying to avoid a major disruption to the introduction of these new fleets. It has already managed to send a subway car finished by managers across the picket line to Toronto.
Pasqualino is raising concern about management trying to assemble the vehicles themselves. “I think that’s a safety issue. That should be looked at. I don’t feel that these people are competent to work on these cars,” he says.
Raising awareness of safety issues is part of Local 1075’s push into Toronto. It is also lobbying municipal and provincial governments on the consequences of the strike in order to bring pressure on Bombardier to find a resolution.
Pasqualino says the people of Thunder Bay are supportive of Local 1075, but there needs to be greater awareness across the province.
The strike at Bombardier in Thunder Bay continues the trend of profitable corporations squeezing their workers while executive salaries remain generous. Last year, Bombardier made $572 million in profits, and CEO Pierre Beaudoin’s compensation was $6 million. As of July 31, Bombardier also had an order backlog of $75.7 billion ensuring a stable future for the company.