PEMBINA, N.D. – Workers at Motor Coach Industries in Pembina are concerned that job layoffs scheduled this year are an indication the company plans to eventually close the plant in the northeastern North Dakota town.
Earlier this year, Motor Coach Industries announced plans to modify one of the New Flyer completion lines in Crookston, Minn., so the company can build buses and coaches at the Crookston location, increasing flexibility, according to an email to the Herald from Lindy Norris, Motor Coach Industries spokeswoman.
Eventually that will result in layoffs of 50 employees in Pembina, she said. The Pembina Motor Coach Industries plant has 300 employees.
Pembina, which is about 75 miles north of Grand Forks and a few miles south of the U.S.-Canada border, has a population of 485.
Randy Hummel, a Motor Coach Industries mechanic who is a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union, believes the number of layoffs at the Pembina plant will be closer to 100, and that all of the jobs there will be moved to Crookston and Winnipeg in the next few years.
A 27-year employee of Motor Coach Industries in Pembina, Hummel said the plant has the highest paying jobs and best benefits of any employer in the area, and that its closure would be a major financial hit for the employees who work there. The plant employs generations of family members, including grandfathers, fathers and sons who work there, Hummel said.
Hummel said he has been laid off at other times during his years at MCI, but this time feels different and he’s concerned that the company plans to discontinue the model of bus manufactured in Pembina.
“They told us they plan to lay off 100 people,” said DeLane Adams, Machinists Union assistant communications director. “Every time we have seen that before, it's been a preemptive strike to shut down a facility.”
However, MCI disputes that claim. The company plans to keep the Pembina plant open, and meanwhile, move some of its work to New Flyer in Crookston, which will hire 50 employees for job positions created by the move, Norris said in the email.
In a Feb. 4 letter to New Flyer and MCI employees obtained by the Grand Forks Herald, the company said it is modifying one of two assembly lines in Crookston to allow completion of both New Flyer transit and MCI Coach shells, the latter which have been started in Winnipeg, on a common line. Beginning in August, the Crookston plant will be able to complete shells of the D45 CRT LE and D45 CRT and D4520 models, and that capacity of those models will ramp up to about five units per week.
“The Pembina facility will continue to complete shells and maintain capability for the portfolio of D products, (including legacy MCI D coaches),” the letter said.
Hummel believes, however, that MCI is seeking to discontinue the D model, and instead promote other models, such as the D45 CRT LE.
“This company is so big, and they have plants all over the place,” he said. “It just feels like they're trying to phase us out, totally.”