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Thunder Bay union head calls on governments to fund Toronto subway cars

The president of Unifor local 1075 says a new order would be a lifeline for the Thunder Bay plant

The recently elected union president for workers at Thunder Bay's Alstom plant is calling out the Ontario and federal governments after news broke this week that a request for proposals to manufacture subway cars for the Toronto Transit Commission has been withdrawn.

"We are not happy with that. It's very important. It was a lifeline for our future, for the next few years," said Justin Roberts, the president of Unifor Local 1075, the largest union representing workers at Thunder Bay's Alstom rail car assembly plant.

The Toronto Transit Commission issued a request for proposals for 480 subway cars in October 2022, and pre-qualified Alstom and three Asian manufacturers to submit bids.

But in June it quietly notified the four companies that it was cancelling the request because government funding for the $2.3 billion project has not been secured.

The City of Toronto previously made a commitment of $624 million.

Roberts said it's disappointing that the three levels of government "can't seem to work together efficiently" in this situation.

"It's essential that we get them together and figure out this funding situation so that we can keep our people working. If we don't figure it out soon, we are going to run out of work." 

The union head said Unifor has already lost about 900 members at the Alstom plant since the completion of the last subway car contract and streetcar contract.

According to the union, as of last month, there were barely 200 Unifor members on the job.

"Toronto wants the cars, Toronto loves our quality of cars. And they've been willing to put money forward. But Doug Ford and the province seems to not be getting to the table with them and giving them the support they need, along with the federal government," Roberts said.

He believes it's unhelpful that the Conservative party is in power in Ontario while the Liberals are the governing party in Ottawa.

"I think right now it's about an equal blame between the governments, but Doug Ford did promise us lots of work when he came here awhile back, and we're still waiting to see it.  Seeing some work going to foreign places, like Hitachi, really hurts our local economy, let alone our workers here."

Last year, Hitachi Rail was awarded a $9-billion contract to supply driver-less trains for Toronto's new Ontario subway line.

The TTC has said it hopes to re-issue the cancelled request for proposals for subway cars once funding has been secured.

Alstom has not indicated where the cars would be built if it were to win the contract, but a Unifor official said last fall that he expected at least some of the work would be done in Thunder Bay.

- TBNewswatch