THUNDER BAY — Workers at the Alstom rail car facility are watching with growing concern as equipment is moved out of the plant.
"We are basically losing our foundry and our machine shop," said Dominic Pasqualino, president of Unifor local 1075. "I used to have 25 or 30 people in the machine shop, and now we have one machinist working part-time ... and there aren't any regular orders because we're not producing anything from scratch anymore."
In a recent interview, Pasqualino also said, "We only have one or two welders working. Even the guy on the brake is not putting a full week in on the brake that's used to bend metal. This is where the plant is right now."
About 213 Unifor members are currently employed at the plant, refurbishing bi-level GO train coaches and assembling 60 new streetcars for Toronto.
"Even with those cars, we're not doing a lot of the basic stuff like the machine shop, the fabrication, the welding, and the brakes to make the structures," Pasqualino said. "Those structures are coming from other plants, from Mexico or other places in the world."
He said management has shipped out much of the plant's machinery, including some aging equipment that's been there for decades.
"I think we've lost capability," he said.
The union head said the company is using some of the freed-up space to store parts that are currently kept at Keefer Terminal, but worries that other key components of the plant may be the next to go.
"Right now, those panels that come in for the LRVs [streetcars] are pre-painted, and on top of that, for the refurbishment of the bi-level cars, we did not get the job of re-painting them, so they're being painted somewhere else. More than likely I'm going to lose a lot of not only my painters — and it's a highly skilled job — we're likely going to lose some of the paint booths that we have. So we are losing a lot of infrastructure from the plant."
Pasqualino said he's very disappointed that there are currently only 213 Unifor members on the job, compared with the 1,100 who were employed in the plant in 2013.
"Even if the plant were to get a big contract right now, it would have to do a major purchase and retooling to get that equipment back up."
He described the current situation as "definitely scary" for the future of the Alstom plant.
"I've talked to people at other plants, and they find that if you're going to have refurbishment [contracts], that keeps the core people working in the plant but the big orders are when you're actually building cars and doing as much assembly and manufacturing in the plant. That's where the numbers come from."
TBnewswatch reached out to Alstom management for comment, but did not receive a response.
Last fall, the company was one of four firms that pre-qualified to bid to supply $2.3 billion worth of subway cars to the TTC.
The closing date for submissions is the end of September.
Alstom has not indicated whether any of the work will be assigned to Thunder Bay if its bid is successful.