Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Closure of Canadian Space Agency lab in Ottawa to impact 34 workers

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“We would have liked them to follow what the government had said and not impact the personnel and keep the facility open.”

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The closure of the David Florida Laboratory is expected to impact 34 federal public servants, according to a union leader representing employees working at the Ottawa facility, most of whom were shocked by the decision.

The Canadian Space Agency has announced its plans to close Ottawa’s only space technology laboratory in 2025 following a “strategic” review of operations.

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“There was anger, there were tears,” Richard Thibert, the Union Of Canadian Transportation Employees’ regional vice-president for the National Capital Region, said a few days after the announcement earlier in March. “Some of the employees had seen this coming, some of the actions that the CSA was taking and making plans for the future of other facilities, but not the DFL. I would say the majority did not see it coming.”

Alyssa Roussy, a CSA spokesperson, said the difficult decision to cease DFL operations was based on a strategic review of operations.

“Expenditure reviews are an integral part of sound and responsible management,” Roussy said, noting that the CSA was part of the whole-of-government refocusing spending effort.

Thibert said the union was “very disappointed” the agency did not find another way to cut costs.

“This is an important facility for Canada,” Thibert said. “We would have liked them to follow what the government had said and not impact the personnel and keep the facility open.”

According to Thibert, CSA said it was deciding to close the facility because it was running a deficit, but he said members were turning away work.

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Opened in September 1972, the facility is described on the CSA’s website as the country’s “world-class spacecraft assembly, integration and testing centre.”

Playing a major part in the Canadian Space Program, the CSA website states, the facility has supported the development of satellite systems and instruments for CSA projects like the RADARSAT Constellation Mission and the Fine Guidance Sensor for the NASA-led James Webb Space Telescope. It also supports Canada’s contribution to the International Space Station Program.

For a fee, the facility can be used by other organizations, like aerospace and telecommunications companies.

Roussy said the closure of the DFL was scheduled for March 31, 2025.

“While operations will continue over the next year, DFL will be moving towards a wind-down posture over the next several months,” Roussy said. “As part of the transition with the closure of the DFL, different options are being assessed in terms of the facility, equipment and needs of the industry.”

Thibert said there were 50 full-time employees at the facility, though only 34 were being affected by this decision.

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Of those employees, 21 are members of UCTE and less than a dozen are represented by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. Others are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Roussy said a human resources plan had been developed to “outline the options available to these employees” and “ensure that required assistance and resources are in place to support employees through this process.”

“They have been met and presented with options in accordance with the Work Force Adjustment Directive,” Roussy said.

Under the collective agreement, Thibert said, employees have three options: to go on a surplus list for a year and get another “reasonable” job offer within the public service; leave with a cash-out; or leave with a cash-out with an education allowance.

While operations are expected to continue as usual until the facility’s closure, Thibert said members had 120 days to render a decision on which package they would take, adding that some could be gone 30 days after that.

“You’ll have less personnel on the ground, so less research that’s being done,” he said.

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If employees choose to go on a surplus list, Thibert said, employees can be moved to anywhere within the federal government, matched to a job within 40 kilometres of downtown Ottawa.

The David Florida Laboratory is the only CSA building in Ottawa. Thibert said no relocation had been on the table as far as he knew. Roussy confirmed the CSA also had an office in Gatineau.

“It could be anywhere in any department,” Thibert said, adding the CSA’s main office was in Quebec, which made it harder for employees to transfer. “A lot of these employees, all they know is space. They studied research, so another government department that would offer that right now could be hard to find.”

PIPSC president Jennifer Carr said a workplace adjustment meeting took place earlier in March, before the tabling of the government’s main spending estimates in Parliament.

“We definitely are concerned,” Carr said, adding that she believed the closure of the laboratory was a direct result of the government’s refocusing spending initiative. “We are not sure of what’s coming down the pipe and what departments have to determined to be essential or what could what could be cut or quote unquote refocused.”

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Carr said she had met with the Treasury Board to express her concerns.

“Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come, but it is the first that we know of so far,” Carr said. “We want to make sure that if any programs or services to Canadians or any vital research or any program is not unilaterally taken off the table because it’s convenient, but it makes the most sense.”

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