Did City Pardon Penalties On Premier Job Guarantees?
Two issues ago (read here) I explained my travails in attempting to shed light on the sketchy operations of the aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility that has occupied a $23 million, 144,000 square foot space on Windsor International Airport lands since it was constructed by the city and federal government, and opened in June of 2012.
Since the overriding rationale for spending gobs of taxpayer money was to create jobs in a new industry, it behooved me to unearth how many jobs have actually been created.
It turns out the city was hell bent on suppressing those numbers. Finally, through a ruling three years in the making, from the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection Act Privacy Commission, the city was ordered to reveal covenants in the operating contract with service provider Premier Aviation to hire 100 full-time employees within the first year, 175 employees by the end of the second year and 325 by the end of the seventh year.
Premier paid $1 a year in rent for the first three years of operations, also revealed through an FOI request. My second request illuminated the information that Premier would be on the hook for $5,000 times the difference between the number of employees targeted and the actual number.
As explained in my September column, I subsequently asked the city’s FOI Coordinator to provide the number of employees hired by the service provider in year one and two and the number currently employed as the seventh year approaches in mid-2019.
I was told that Your Quick Gateway (YQG) was now handling airport FOI matters and to ask my questions of that corporate entity. I complied, asking concurrently that if Premier didn’t meet its job requirements how much has been paid to the city in penalties.
Prior to the 30 day deadline for responding to those questions, I received a letter from YQG CEO Carolyn Brown, dated September 5, 2018, denying the information on the grounds that the responsive records reveal information that is commercial or financial in nature, that was supplied in confidence, and that the prospect of disclosure gives rise to a variety of corporate harms that override the public’s right to know.
I hastily filed an appeal of that decision to the Privacy Commission in Toronto, with no chance of potential politically damaging information surfacing before the municipal election on October 22, 2018. Incumbent Mayor Drew Dilkens is Chair of the YQG board.
Then a bizarre thing happened on September 25, 2018. AAR Aircraft Services, the Illinois-based company that purchased the MRO business from Premier last fall, staged a one year birthday party for its employees inside the huge hangar.
The media was invited as well as Dilkens, but only a Biz X photographer showed up (see photo and story on page 10 of this issue). I later contacted Dianne Wright who issued the invitations as Manager of Human Resources for the company in Windsor. I found her to be a delightfully open person who spoke freely about the jobs situation.
She reported that there are roughly 70 employees on the day shift, and 30 on the afternoon shift ending at 11:45 p.m. She also had an explanation for snoops like me who drove around the parking lot this summer and counted less than 50 cars.
She explained that operations were halted for two months to accommodate training for skilled aviation mechanics as AAR sets up an in-house apprenticeship program. Over the summer, full time employees were sent to Trois-Rivières to work. AAR also purchased the Quebec sister company from Premier last year. Other Windsor employees took vacations during the down time.
Finding properly trained mechanics for aircraft MRO is a major struggle in the industry, and it haunted Premier.St. Clair College partnered with Premier to host a 44 week aviation familiarity course that ended last fall, but due to high drop-out rates, only 12 to 15 of 36 projected graduates have wound up working on apprenticeships for AAR. The St. Clair training was funded by a $292,273 Canada-Ontario Job Grant.
Wright, a carryover from the old regime, can’t stress enough that Premier Aviation is “a different company” than AAR.
“We are spending a lot of money on training and mentorship and recruiting co-op students right out of high school,” she says.
AAR has been on the Forbes “Best Employer List” for a mid-sized company. Information attained at the birthday party indicated the company hopes to eventually grow its Windsor workforce to over 300 by the year 2020.
At this writing, Wright said that five customers with multiple planes are being serviced with more expected. The facility, humming with activity as all new software systems are being installed, can handle six aircraft at a time.
It seems clear that Premier didn’t live up to expectations in Windsor in any way, and I suspect that this is a primary reason for the denial of my FOI request.
Brown, in her correspondence, notes that “third party interests may be affected and are given the opportunity to make representations about the release of the records.”
My FOI appeal asks if there is a new agreement with AAR that changes the employment guarantees, and further has AAR agreed to pick up any outstanding default payments? Finally, will AAR be required to fulfil the requirement of 325 full-time jobs by the end of the seventh year?
Wright states no-one from head office has told her about any obligation to employ 325 by a certain date. AAR head office Vice-President of Strategic Communications Kathleen Cantillon did not respond to phone and email messages from me asking for jobs and contract information in the summer.
It’s my guess that Premier didn’t meet the job covenants and the city pardoned the penalties as a reward for selling off its assets to AAR and getting a hair shirt off its back.
Meanwhile, Wright says AAR will soon be organizing an open house. Now that he’s safely re-elected, I’m sure Dilkens will show up with bells on and cameras popping.
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