Sign of the Times x2

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Bombardier cuts another 136 jobs at Downsview plant
Talks continue on restructuring Facility's future under a cloud

TONY VAN ALPHEN
BUSINESS REPORTER

Sputtering Bombardier Aerospace has cut almost 140 more jobs at its Downsview aircraft plant as company and union negotiators try to spark talks for a restructuring of operations.

Bombardier, which has been reducing its workforce at the plant for three years, confirmed yesterday that it had issued permanent layoff notices to 136 workers who have been off the job at Downsview since late last year.

The company attributed the layoffs to the continuing downturn in the world market for turboprop aircraft and business jets.

The plant halted operations and laid off about 1,600 workers in mid-December but resumed production in January.

At that time, the company recalled 85 per cent of the laid off workers, or about 1,360, and kept 240 on temporary layoff.

However, there were fears among workers that some of those layoffs could become permanent if markets didn't quickly show signs of a strong rebound.

The permanent layoffs affect employees with service ranging from 7 to 15 years, the company said.

The latest cuts come during new negotiations between the Canadian Auto Workers union and Bombardier to restructure operations and cut costs.

"We are talking, and to us that is very important," Bombardier spokesperson John Paul Macdonald said.

Montreal-based Bombardier, which has six aircraft plants, issued an ultimatum to the Canadian Auto Workers last fall that if the two sides could not reach a deal by the end of January, the company would gradually start pulling production from Downsview.

Talks fizzled in January with little progress, and the company started the process of removing work from the plant.

There have been some rumblings among politicians that Bombardier had no real interest in a deal and was setting the stage for an eventual closing.

But the union said the company initiated talks again this week on key issues such as job security, streamlining work rules and contracting out. The existing contract expires in June.

"We're working through some of the issues,'' said Dawn Cartwright, the union's aerospace director. "We're having some good discussions."

The company told the union earlier it wants to restructure the Downsview site into a core assembly operation. It would contract out work, eliminate some shops, revise work rules and consolidate job classifications.

That would eliminate more than 400 jobs, but the alternative would be worse. If the union continues to reject some key proposals, Bombardier says it plans to move production of the Global Express business jet.

It would turn the site into a maker of turboprops, whose market continues to decline. Such a scenario would kill 1,100 jobs and increase prospects of an eventual closing.

CAW negotiators have insisted that if the union agrees to the company's proposals, it wants a long-term commitment for the site, job security and early-retirement incentives.

Cartwright said Bombardier has an obligation to keep the Downsview site a strong, vital operation because of heavy government investment in the plant. "Taxpayers want to see a return on their investment, not jobs leaving town," she said.

Employment at the Downsview site, including the company's regional aircraft division and its marketing and service operations, has plunged by almost 50 per cent during the past two years.

In January, 2000, production and salaried staff totalled 5,692 at Downsview. After yesterday's cut, the job level has dwindled to 2,864.

Meanwhile, Bombardier told its workers at a plant in Wichita, Kan., two weeks ago about the need to cut costs or face consolidation of operations elsewhere.

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