Cape Breton metal manufacturer East Coast Metal Fabrication closes doors

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A longtime Cape Breton metal manufacturer has closed its doors, leaving about 10 people out of work.

East Coast Metal Fabrication closed in late August after more than two decades of metal fabrication and construction in eastern Cape Breton. Based in the Sydport Industrial Park, the company had been a major employer of welders, equipment operators and other metal workers in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality since opening in 1998.

The closure follows a string of layoffs dating back to 2021. The 10 employees remaining when the company closed is down from more than 40 workers between 2015 and 2021. 

“We were disappointed. We never want to see any workers lose their jobs, so we were shocked when we got the news,” said Shauna Wilcox, a staff representative for Unifor Local 596 — the union that represented East Coast Metal Fabrication employees. 

The closure is the last in a line of job cuts dating back to 2021 — the year 42 employees joined Unifor. That number of employees fell into the mid-20s not long after. The layoffs leading up to last month’s closure were mainly because of work shortages, Wilcox said. It’s unclear if that’s the reason the manufacturer shut down.

Over its 25 years, East Coast Metal Fabrication worked on several large projects in the Sydney area. Recently, the company supplied the structural steel for the Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre, which opened in 2016. It also installed the steel frame at Nova Scotia Community College’s Sydney Waterfront Campus. 

The company underwent a rare change of officers and directors in May, the first major shuffling in its leadership since 2014. The company’s chief operating officer, Joe Hines, couldn’t be contacted for comment.

Fluctuating staffing, union history

Much of East Coast Metal Fabrication’s business relied on contracts to work on larger projects. At the company’s peak of 50-plus employees in 2015 and 2016, the majority of workers were assigned to full-time work on the Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre. 

When work on the new NSCC began, the company hired in several positions, including foreman. More than 20 jobs became available by early 2021. 

When employees unionized in October 2021, 52 votes were cast — 38 workers voted in favour of joining Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada. 

The Cape Breton Post reported at the time that while an “in-house union” was in place before the Unifor deal, some employees were concerned management could end the deal at any time. Layoffs began not long after East Coast Metal Fabrication’s work on NSCC was finished. 

Source: Saltwire