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Thunder Bay Alstom plant workforce at all-time low after missing out on light-rail contract

Unifor says Queen's Park's decision to award Ontario Line contract to Hitachi consortium is contributing to a dire situation
Premier Doug Ford visits the Alstom plant in Thunder Bay in 2021. The union representing workers there is calling on the province to implement greater Canadian content rules. (TBNewswatch photo)

The union representing workers at Thunder Bay’s Alstom (formerly Bombardier) rail coach manufacturing plant says the provincial government’s awarding of a multi-billion- dollar contract to a consortium led by Hitachi Rail has “deeply aggravated” challenges at the local plant.

The government awarded a $9-billion contract to the Connect 6ix consortium on Nov. 17 for the Toronto rapid transit project known as the Ontario Line.

A consortium including Alstom also bid on the contract, union leaders said.

In a statement issued Friday, Unifor said that contract includes $2.3 billion for light rail vehicle orders that could have been built at the local Alstom plant, if Canadian content rules were in place.

The Ontario NDP has previously criticized the government for requiring only 10 per cent Canadian content for the Ontario Line project, dropped from the 25 per cent minimum stipulated in a 2018 policy.

Unifor said only 150 employees are now working at the Thunder Bay plant.

Dominic Pasqualino, president of Unifor 1075 representing local Alstom workers, said that flies in the face of provincial rhetoric.

“It’s devastating," Pasqualino said. "We had a lot of promises from Doug Ford and his government to make sure our plant would be full.”

“The first time I talked to Doug Ford, there were about 800 people working in the plant. Now we’re down to 150.”

That number had held steady between 750 and 1,300 from 2011 to 2019, the union said. It added 200 workers had recently lost recall rights after being laid off for three years, and 22 opted for early retirement.

Pasqualino reported important machinery at Alstom is being decommissioned and sold, raising concerns over the plant's future.

“I’m losing most of my machine shop – I only have three machines left in there," he said. "I believe when they’re done painting these cars we’re doing right now, that the paint jobs are at risk. That’s a huge amount of skilled trades to be losing.”

As the United States looks to up its 'Buy American' requirements to 75 per cent by 2029, Pasqualino said governments north of the border must respond for industry here to stay competitive.

“We need to look seriously in this country at increasing Canadian content [rules] to something that matches the U.S. government," he said.

Pasqualino said the next lifeline for the plant could be in a bid to build subway cars for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)'s Line 2, but the project has not yet secured provincial and federal funding. That project is operating with a 25 per cent made in Canada minimum, he said.

— TBnewsWatch