200 jobs lost at Bell Helicopter, it’s time to stop the hemorrhage

Cover

Position letter

200 jobs lost at Bell Helicopter: It’s time to stop the hemorrhage.

Call to unity and mobilization

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers launches a call to unity and mobilization to all players in Canada’s aerospace industry as well as all levels of government. The time has come to join forces and protect the future of Canadian aerospace. Our governments must demonstrate leadership and put in place the necessary conditions for holding an aerospace summit. Without an extensive plan or summit meeting, we will soon lose our position as global aerospace leaders.

 

We nevertheless have the know-how, the schools, the facilities, the expertise… We have everything we need to succeed. The only thing missing is some political courage and a plan of action for the entire aerospace sector to replace the rescue operations that have nothing more than short-term palliative effects. It was far from a bad idea for the government of Québec to provide assistance to Bombardier’s C-Series. This aircraft represents the future of aviation. It has enormous potential and will soon become a must-have for carriers. In this case, the government erred by not demanding stronger guarantees and speaking rights to ensure that Bombardier remains a good corporate citizen.

 

We are currently shooting ourselves in the foot each and every time we miss an opportunity. For example, take the 200 jobs that were cut yesterday by Bell Helicopter in Mirabel. The Griffon helicopter was designed, built and maintained by workers at the Mirabel plant. The federal government had decided to upgrade 83 of its Griffons with the objective of extending their service life and increasing their efficiency during missions. However, since some time and for reasons that are unknown to us, the project has been suspended despite the fact that there remains much upgrading work to do to keep these helicopters flying for yet a long time.

 

Griffons are essential during certain rescue operations and extending their service life would translate to savings for the federal government. Furthermore, if the government had decided to upgrade its complete fleet of 84 Griffons, it could have made a difference—at least for the time being—for the 200 workers laid off in Mirabel. This missed opportunity is impossible to comprehend in these difficult economic times. The federal government had a golden opportunity to intervene directly and save these jobs but instead chose to do nothing. We invite the federal government to send the opposite message and become a catalyst in the development of a coherent and sustainable unifying collective project that will benefit the entire country. We also send the same message to the Québec government. The time has come to join forces and take our destiny in hand.

 

According to the most recent figures, Québec’s aerospace sector comprises 203 companies that employ a total of 44,507 people. It’s the province’s most important export sector seeing as 80% of what it produces is destined for export. This accounts for 12.8% of Québec’s total exports. Canada’s aerospace sector is made up of over 700 companies of all sizes which are active throughout the country and employ over 180,000 Canadians. On an annual basis, the aerospace sector contributes $29 billion to Canada’s GDP and it generated $27.7 billion in direct income in 2014. Manufacturing activities make up 73% of the sector whereas MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) service providers account for the remaining 27%. Without placing all our eggs in the same basket as the oil industry did, there is a way to transform aerospace into a collective project that will benefit society as a whole. Moreover, aerospace is an industry with a higher economic potential than the oil industry seeing as its development can have beneficial effects on several sectors within the economy.

 

We collectively have all of the tools we need to succeed. All that we are missing is an aerospace policy to coordinate our efforts and better compete against other powers. However, we need our governments to invest in this project. All levels of government must go beyond simply providing financial support without solid guarantees and get directly and concretely involved in each step. We need to give ourselves the means to keep our jobs here not only by countering global outsourcing through legislation but also by continuing to develop our professional know-how. We must focus on developing our academic and technological means and take advantage of our geographical situation and natural resources to breathe new life into the aerospace sector. Instead of constantly blaming our failures on sacrosanct market laws, let’s instead take things into our own hands and create winning conditions as we have often done in the past.

 

This industry is not the property of major corporations or wealthy shareholders; it belongs to each and every one of us. It’s our collective property and it has the potential of contributing to our collective wealth much more convincingly than it contributes at present. Let’s give ourselves the means to match our ambitions. That’s how we’ll successfully promote our industry for our own benefit and for the benefit of society as a whole.

 

David Chartrand, Québec coordinator for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers