Bombardier workers rally in solidarity ahead of U.S. trade spat decision

An unusual scene took place Wednesday as unionized workers left their posts at Bombardier’s plant in north Toronto — not to protest stalled labour negotiations but to express solidarity with the company in its battle against U.S.-based aerospace giant Boeing Co.

“We’re in it together,” said Mike Vorberg, one of the Bombardier employees at the rally.

“We had management here, upper management here, and they want to bring awareness to what’s happening here, and we’re hoping that this fight will be favourable for us in Canada.”

Boeing has accused Bombardier (TSX:BBD.B) of selling its CSeries passenger jets to American-based Delta at an unfairly low price with help from government subsidies.

“We understand the anger of our employees and their passion,” said Bombardier spokesman Simon Letendre in an interview from Montreal.

“They see that Boeing is attacking directly this industry so they are out to protect their jobs and to protect the aircraft they have been working on.”

The action was held the same day the Montreal-based aircraft and railway manufacturer said it’s looking beyond next week’s U.S. Department of Commerce decision about preliminary duties against its CSeries aircraft.

The U.S. Commerce Department confirmed Wednesday that its decision on Boeing’s request for preliminary countervailing duties of more than 79 per cent will be announced Tuesday, a day later than it previously indicated.

A preliminary anti-dumping determination is currently scheduled to be announced Oct. 5, but can be extended. The department will make final determinations on duties before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) issues its final injury determination.

But Bombardier spokesman Bryan Tucker said the United States still has to rule on the critical question of whether Boeing suffered any harm.

“Boeing acknowledges it did not compete in the Delta competition, and it abandoned this aircraft segment more than a decade ago, so it’s really hard to see how they are harmed,” he wrote in an email.

Tucker said that the outcome from the preliminary findings is hard to predict because U.S. trade laws weren’t designed to address large, complex and highly engineered products such as aircraft.

“At the end of the process, and given that the CSeries will contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. economy and lower travel costs for the American public, we’re confident the ITC will reach the right conclusion.”

Industry analysts expect preliminary countervailing duties will be imposed, although they wouldn’t begin to be collected until the first Delta Air Lines planes are delivered next year.

The Toronto protest came a week after workers in Montreal marched in front of Boeing’s downtown office and the U.S. consulate.

Cheers erupted through the crowd outside the Toronto aerospace plant as Unifor president Jerry Dias vowed to stand up to U.S. protectionism and fight for Canadian aerospace jobs. The union head met with Boeing officials last week in Washington, D.C., where he encouraged the company to drop the complaint.

“The reality is, Canada doesn’t have the deep pockets that they do in the United States and they do in the European consortium,” he told the workers.

“This is about a Canadian market, this is about a Canadian plane, this is about Canadian technology, this is about Canadian innovation, this is about Canadian jobs, and we’re not going to let anybody take it away from us!”

Dias used the aerospace trade dispute to highlight some of the issues he has been vocal about amid the ongoing NAFTA renegotations and called on the Canadian government to continue its fight against the U.S.

“We’re sick and tired of losing our jobs to right-to-work states in the United States, we’re sick and tired of losing our jobs to Mexico where minimum wage is 65 cents an hour,” he said.

The Canadian government is putting pressure on Boeing to drop its complaint, threatening to cancel plans to buy 18 Boeing Super Hornet fighter jets.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has received support from his British counterpart, Theresa May, who wants to protect jobs in Northern Ireland, where the plane’s wings are assembled.

Analyst Seth Seifman of J.P. Morgan said Boeing was emphatic during an investor conference on Monday that it won’t back down despite the prospect of losing business with Canada and CSeries customer Delta.

“Management has concluded that a subsidized Airbus was one reason why McDonnell Douglas’s commercial aircraft businesses died and it is determined to foreclose the possibility of a repeat with Bombardier,” Seifman wrote in a report.

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