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Ontario and Unifor pressure feds to fund subway cars

Premier Doug Ford and Unifor's national president issued a joint statement pressing Ottawa to help preserve the Alstom plant and jobs in Thunder Bay
The head of Unifor Local 1075 says layoffs will begin at Thunder Bay's Alstom plant by mid-2025 unless the plant gets a new order. (Supplied photo)

THUNDER BAY — The president of the largest union at Thunder Bay's Alstom rail car plant says layoffs will be a certainty next year without a new contract to keep production going.

Justin Roberts, the head of Unifor Local 1075, was commenting on a joint statement issued July 3 by Premier Doug Ford and Unifor national president Lana Payne.

In a new effort to apply pressure to the federal government, they reiterated previous calls for Ottawa to contribute to the cost of upgrading mass transit infrastructure in Toronto.

The province and the Toronto Transit Commission have already agreed to commit $758 million each for new Line 2 subway trains on the condition the federal government will do the same.

"Workers in Thunder Bay, where the subway trains are made, and millions of transit riders, are depending on the federal government funding its share of the project," Ford and Payne stated.

They said Ottawa needs to step forward "to protect production, good union jobs and maintain servicing capacity of subway trains in Thunder Bay."

Roberts said he worries for the plant's future.

"The [contracts] we are currently working on are running out, and if we can't get future contracts on the go immediately, we're going to be looking at mass layoffs again."

He predicted that, without funding for new subway cars, those layoffs will begin no later than mid-2025, and possibly earlier. 

Roberts said there are currently about 355 Unifor members on the job at the plant, plus about 150 other employees. 

Even if the federal government agrees to share the cost of new subway trains, Alstom will still need to qualify for the work.

The company provided a statement "in the name of our 500 employees in Thunder Bay."

It said it's proud of the trust and continued support received from the Ontario government over the years, and that it has a long tradition of supplying state-of-the-art rolling stock to transit agencies across Canada, supporting a Canadian supply chain with long-lasting local economic impacts.

"As the only rolling stock manufacturer with a footprint in Ontario, we are obviously closely following developments regarding the renewal of the Toronto subway fleet. We stand ready to continue to support future public transit projects in the province," the statement concluded.

On social media, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow responded by thanking Premier Ford and Unifor for their advocacy to secure federal support.

"Without it soon, the city will have to use its share of funds to extend our trains past their lifespan, putting reliable service in jeopardy. We need a commitment in the next few months to get the order underway," Chow said.

Neither Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu nor Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski has commented yet on this issue.

In a brief statement, the office of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser said it can't comment on specific funding decisions, but that the federal government is collaborating closely with the TTC and the City of Toronto on how it can support their needs.

— TBnewsatch