The parking lot at Wescast Industries’ foundry in Wingham sits empty – and could be for quite some time – as the company issued layoff notices to 180 employees at the Water Street facility last week. Wescast stated in a company memo in late May that the layoffs would be temporary, but some at Wescast believe this is a permanent closure. Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WINGHAM – The familiar hum in the air at Wingham’s Wescast foundry can no longer be heard.

On July 19, Wescast Industries issued layoff notices to 180 employees at the foundry, effective July 27.

Sources say the parts made at the Wingham plant will now be made at Wescast’s plant in Wuhan, China and shipped to Wingham for machining. That facility will maintain 100 jobs.

The layoffs come 50 days after the company stated in an internal memo that it had no plans to permanently close the foundry.

On May 29, Unifor – the union representing workers at the foundry – stated they were made aware of Wescast’s plans to close the facility. On May 30, a memo was sent to foundry employees by Wescast in response to media reports of the closure, acknowledging plans to close the facility, but on a temporary basis of six to eight months so that “assessments, planning and requests for new investments can be made.”

“The plan for the future of WCW is not simply to permanently close the plant as of July 2023,” reads the memo. “Rather, the plan to do an extensive evaluation on the facility to determine what would be necessary to bring the Wescast Castings facilities… back to being world-class facilities. When this evaluation is complete, the information will be presented to the ownership group with the expectation that they will approve the significant investments that will be necessary to allow… WCW to be profitable again well into the future.”

On June 5, Unifor stated in a press release that those claims “are not worth the paper they’re printed on.”

In speaking to CTV News, Joel Sutton, union plant chair at Wescast, does not believe Wescast will resume foundry operations in Wingham.

“I think they will be moving on. If they can capture this work, and make it in their plants in China, I don’t think they’re coming back,” Sutton told CTV News on July 19.

The Wingham Advance Times reached out to Sutton for additional comment, but did not receive a response prior to press time.

As of Monday, Unifor has yet to publicly comment on the layoffs.

Wescast has not issued any public comment at this time, and attempts by the Advance Times to speak to someone on the matter were unsuccessful.

‘Sad day’

While union and company representatives remain silent on the issue, one of the impacted employees took to social media to speak of their last day on the job.

Murray Skinn, in a post on Facebook, wrote, “It’s a sad and bit of an emotional day for me. For 32 years, I have been employed with the same employer and have faithfully went to work each day. Between myself, Dad, uncles and cousins, my family has over 500 years of service for Western Foundry/Wescast.

“The foundry has survived two world wars, a plague, the Great Depression, and for the first time in 121 years the flow of molten iron has been shut off.

“To all my fellow foundrymen and women, it’s been a pleasure working with you all these years, and all the best to everyone as we go out and try (to) rediscover ourselves.”

‘Terrible news’

Wescast may not be as large an operation as it once was in Wingham, but it still remains one of the town’s biggest employers.

The foundry has a long history, dating back to 1902. For many of those years, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s, Wescast was a workplace of choice locally for many, according to Wingham BIA Chair Dave Tiffin.

“The impending closure is terrible news for the 180 employees and the local community in general,” he told the Advance Times on July 20.

Tiffin does feel that the “writing was on the wall” since the sale of the business in 2013 to Sichaun Bohong Industry Co., based in China. It was reported at the time that Wescast was purchased for $195 million.

North Huron Reeve Paul Heffer called the announcement “concerning,” although he maintains hope the layoffs are temporary.

“The announcement is concerning, the layoffs and temporary shutdown will for sure have an impact on the local economy,” said Heffer in a statement to the Advance Times. 

Tiffin agrees.

“The Wescast closure will definitely be a detriment to Josephine Street businesses, as people who work there from out of town have contributed by shopping here,” said Tiffin. “Unless some of our other industries are hiring, these people won’t be coming to Wingham.”

Tiffin added that although the closure of the Wescast foundry is a blow to the community, “it’s not the end of Wingham by a long shot.”

“We do have other industries thriving here – Royal Homes, Britespan and Pioneer Corteva, for example. Plus, the two schools, [the] hospital, medical centre and CKNX are solid employers. Also, Wescast Machining remains open for the time being,” he said.

“With working from home continuing since the pandemic, and a new housing development coming to Hutton Heights, and the apartments by the Legion, the retail business community will remain strong, and Wingham a great place to live.”

Heffer also stated that North Huron is working with Huron County, local employment services, and other local and regional organizations to provide support for the impacted employees.

“We are also making sure we continue to engage with Wescast regarding their future plans for the facility,” said Heffer.

By Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter and Mike Wilson

Original Published on Jul 28, 2023 at 07:20

This item reprinted with permission from   Advance Times   Wingham, Ontario
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