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This article was published 23/3/2020 (795 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NFI Group Inc. (formerly New Flyer Industries) is closing a number of its production operations in Winnipeg by March 30 for at least two weeks as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic starts to manifest itself more directly.
The largest busmaker in North America employs about 2,700 people in Winnipeg and the temporary closures will include its sprawling Transcona production/head office facility, the Motor Coach Industries plant as well as Carfair Composites and Frank Fair Industries.
As well, the company said it will "immediately and permanently" lay off nearly 300 employees in Winnipeg mostly at MCI, as well as some at Carfair. The company said the layoffs are directly due to the economic impact of COVID-19 on MCI’s private motor coach market.
Company officials said it expects about 6,500 of its employees to be affected as it "idles" a majority of its facilities in Canada and the U.S. The company's NFI Parts depots will continue operations, and its U.K. division, Alexander Dennis, and its small bus company, ARBOC, are in the process of working out plans but remain open at this time.
The company has said employees impacted have the option to use accrued vacation time or take unpaid leave and that the company will help employees access government support.
NFI Group operations that will be temporarily shut down:Click to Expand
· New Flyer transit bus manufacturing and parts fabrication facilities in Winnipeg; Crookston and St. Cloud Min; Anniston Ala.; Ontario Calif.; and Jamestown N.Y.
· Motor Coach Industries (MCI) manufacturing facilities in Winnipeg, and Pembina, N.D.
· Carfair Composites and Frank Fair Industries in Winnipeg; St. Cloud, Min., Anniston, Ala.; and Gillette and Wausaukee, Wisc.
· KMG (Kentucky Manufacturing Group) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky.
In a statement, company CEO Paul Soubry said, "The continuing spread of the virus has required us to take immediate measures… It is extremely painful to impact people's lives and livelihood and I assure you that we have not taken any decision lightly and that they have all been made in the context of balancing the interests of our stakeholders. We have built this company with great people, and I am confident we can and will successfully navigate through this crisis."
NFI is taking this action despite the fact most other manufacturing facilities in the province remain open so far.
Ron Koslowsky, the head of the Manitoba chapter of Canadian Manufacturers and Exports, said he has been assuring his members that the provincial state of emergency does not mean manufacturers have to shut their doors.
"At this point manufacturing is fully operational. Most are at work, apart from people who need to be in isolation," Koslowsky said. "All the protocols need to be followed and everyone needs to be very careful, but nevertheless everyone is still working."
Obviously things are changing fast. For instance, a spokesperson from Boeing in Seattle confirmed that Boeing Canada’s manufacturing operation in Winnipeg is business as usual, but later in the day the company announced its massive operation in the Seattle region has been suspended affecting tens of thousands of workers there.
Koslowsky said his members are taking serious efforts to practise social distancing as much as possible, cleaning equipment and ensuring that if workers are sick that they stay home.
"I think there has been really good and serious uptaking of the message there," he said.
Winpak, another manufacturer with a large Winnipeg workforce, said it will continue operations. Winpak makes packaging material primarily used for meat and cheese packaging.
In a statement, Winpak CEO Olivier Muggli, said, "Winpak is an essential provider of packaging material… to the food and health-care industries. Our customers depend on us to provide uninterrupted supply of quality packaging material and machinery to maintain their supply chains and provide all of us with unadulterated food and medical treatments."
Winpak is an example of how many components of the manufacturing industry are part of essential services.
"In many cases we are talking about manufacturing that is producing food, packaging for food, medical supplies," Koslowsky said. "If you disrupt that you will have panic in the streets."
The New Flyer move is the first large layoff and temporary closure of workplaces with large numbers of employees.
Paul McKie, area director for Unifor in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, said the union has not had any many other workplace closures other than the casinos and a couple of smaller locations including a company called Builders Furniture in Winnipeg that had 45 unionized workers.
But the New Flyer announcement will surely heighten the concerns that more workplace closures will follow.
"Social distancing can’t work in some situations and the way the economy works, eventually things start slowing down," McKie said. "Output can only continue as long as input continues and I think we are starting to see after a week and a half that inputs are starting to slow down."
Koslowsky said he was disappointed the province did not initially provide more clarification about the ramifications of the state of emergency that was announced late last week. He said he was fielding queries from members all weekend.
"My stomach has been in a knot for more than a week now," he said.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.