Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Westeel workers laid off during winter slowdown

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THE winter doldrums have taken a temporary bite out of the workforce at Westeel Storage Solutions.

A union official said between 40 and 50 workers at the Winnipeg-based grain-bin manufacturer's local factory have been laid off because of the traditional winter slowdown in sales.

"This (winter layoffs) isn't like a new thing that has happened," said Leslie McNabb, a staff representative with Local 9074 of the United Steelworkers Union, which represents unionized employees at the 107-year-old company's St. Boniface production plant.

McNabb said union officials are optimistic the workers will be called back once sales pick up again.

André Granger, the plant's vice-president and general manager, said Westeel officials are also hopeful the layoffs will be temporary.

Granger said the demand for agricultural storage products usually starts ramping up during the February-to-April period, slows in late summer, picks up again in late fall and slows again during the early winter.

"But demand (for agriculture products) has been good, and I think we see a positive outlook for this coming year, as well," he said.

Granger wouldn't speculate on when the Winnipeg workers might be recalled or confirm exactly how many have been laid off, saying only it was "less than 50."

He, too, stressed staff cutbacks are not unusual for this time of year in the company's agricultural products division, which manufactures such things as steel grain bins, grain hopper tanks, smoothwall hoppered bins and storage bins for things such as seed and fertilizer. "We have some high shipping months and some low shipping months, and we manage our workforce accordingly. This (winter layoffs) is very typical for us."

Westeel, which is a division of Ontario-based Vicwest Inc., sells its agricultural products throughout North America and exports to more than 30 countries around the world.

"The Middle East is fairly challenging because of all the geopolitical turmoil there, and with last year's drought, the U.S. was a challenging market," Granger said. "But India was very positive and Eastern Europe was very positive, as well."

Westeel also manufactures steel storage products for the petroleum and industrial sectors. It has five production plants in Western Canada and distribution centres in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Madrid and Fargo.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2013 B4

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