WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg-based bus and motor coach manufacturer announced on Monday it will be suspending the majority of its facilities and laying off hundreds workers due to the impacts of COVID-19.

“The continuing spread of the virus has required us to take immediate measures, including idling a majority of our facilities and some layoffs of employees,” said Paul Soubry, president and chief executive officer of NFI Group Inc, in a news release.

“It is extremely painful to impact people’s lives and livelihood and I assure you that we have not taken any decisions lightly and that they have all been made in the context of balancing the interests of stakeholders.

NFI will suspend its facilities beginning March 30, or possibly sooner. The suspension will last for two weeks and impact about 6,500 employees. During these two weeks it will decide if it needs to extend this idling period for more time.

In total NFI employs 9,300 people, about 6,900 of which are in North America and 2,700 are in Manitoba.

Workers impacted by the suspension will have the choice to use accrued vacation time or take unpaid leave, though the company has identified some workers who provide “essential services” who will work from NFI facilities or from home.

It said the following facilities will be idled:

  • New Flyer transit bus manufacturing and parts fabrication facilities in Winnipeg, Ontario, Crookston and St. Cloud in Minnesota, Anniston in Alabama, and Jamestown in New York;
  • Motor Coach Industries manufacturing facilities in Winnipeg and Pembina, North Dakota;
  • Carfair Composites and Frank Fair Industries in Winnipeg, St. Cloud, Anniston, AL and Gillette and Wausaukee, Wisconsin;
  • KMG (Kentucky Manufacturing Group) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky;
  • NFI Parts depots will continue operations, and Alexander Dennis and ARBOC are currently determining plant idling plans, but remain open at this time.

“Millions of people continue to rely on NFI products and services through our customers who provide essential transportation services around the world,” said Brian Tobin, chair of the board.

“The Board has worked closely with management as its executes its COVID-19 mitigation plans and actions to ensure the Company’s financial stability.”

The company said the majority of New Flyer’s, its subsidiaries Alexander Dennis Ltd’s and ARBOC’s, and about 40 per cent of Motor Coach Industries’ customers are public transit agencies and commercial operators. This means a large amount of their annual production slots are contractual orders.

“With the significant drop in private motor coach operations in North America due to the pandemic, the Company expects the cancellation or deferral of many private customer orders for new and pre-owned coaches in 2020,” NFI said. 

NFI said the decision will result in about 300 permanent layoffs in Winnipeg at Motor Coach Industries, with some at Carfair.

Management cautions however, that additional actions may be required across the Company in response to future market conditions, government-imposed restrictions and other impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tobin said the company is “confident” that governments will help ensure swift economic recovery by supporting businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic.