Winnipeg’s New Flyer brings 1,500 local staff back to work, with more to come

A Winnipeg Transit bus is seen in this file photo. Shane Gibson/Global News

Around 1,500 Manitobans are back to work — with more to come — as one of Winnipeg’s biggest manufacturing facilities has reopened.

Winnipeg-based New Flyer Industries, the largest bus manufacturer in North America, is in the process of reopening its facilities around the world, with the goal of getting all 9,000 of its employees back to work by early June.

New Flyer president and CEO Paul Soubry told 680 CJOB that half of the company’s 3,000 local workers are back on the job after the manufacturer instituted new protocols and safety measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Winnipeg, we’ve got about 3,000 people and 1,500 back to work. The last facility to go back online is (back) the first week in June,” Soubry said.

“We’re about one-third back to work across our network. It’s not like we’re an automated facility. … We’re building buses that are custom-designed and custom-made, so it’s very manpower intensive.”

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Soubry said some of New Flyer’s facilities have been “idled” for six to eight weeks, and the institution of new protocols, including adjusting the way their production lines work, has allowed them to get back on track.

It’s been a phased ramp-up, he said — not unlike the Province of Manitoba’s own economic reopening — for health and safety reasons, as well as the logistics of setting up social distancing plans as well as cleaning and disinfecting procedures for all of New Flyer’s locations

“There’s a lot of people on each bus at a time, so we’ve come a long way. It’s really encouraging.”

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Soubry said the company is also concerned that reopening too quickly could be a shock to the supply chain.

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“It’s not just us — we have 300 suppliers a day shipping to all of our facilities.

“Every one of those is in a different city or state that has different rules, so we want to make sure they can work in lock-step,” he said.

“The last thing we want to do is start up a facility, start building buses, and run out of parts and have everybody standing around.”

Soubry said he’s been encouraged by low infection numbers in the province, as well as the apparent buy-in by most of the population when it comes to safety measures and social distancing.

“It hasn’t been easy, but I have to credit the people here in Manitoba.

“It truly has been a team sport across the city and the province, and knock on wood, hopefully, we stay that way.”

Manitoba health officials reported no new cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning, but warn that the province’s latest confirmed case is an employee who had been working at a Winnipeg Walmart.

Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said Tuesday the one case reported over the long weekend is a person who had been working the previous weekend at the Walmart in Southdale.

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He said the person had been working “on the floor” at the store on May 9 from 4 to 9 p.m. but was unlikely to have had contact with customers.

There are now 26 active cases in Manitoba, while 257 people have recovered.

The number of people who have died remains at seven.

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