Job losses at IMW hitting Chilliwack families hard

Staff cuts at IMW were confirmed by parent company, Clean Energy Fuels but they wouldn't give the exact number of layoffs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tours IMW Industries in August 2014

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tours IMW Industries in August 2014

At least one of the employees let go recently by IMW Industries of Chilliwack is having a tough go of it.

Jeff Baker, who asked that his real name not to be used, was one of several workers laid off suddenly on Feb. 11 from the global manufacturing company that specializes in CNG compressors and fuelling equipment.

He loved his job, and he and some other local families are having a tough go of it in the wake of the news.

“Between this and (the closing of the) Target store, Chilliwack is going to be full of unemployed people hitting the job boards,” Baker said.

“I just recently got this job, which I was planning on having as a career.”

Many of Chilliwack families were relying on the skilled IMW jobs.

Losing so many jobs, and he was told the number was 85, is “a bit extreme” in such a relatively small town.

“Sure, there were a lot of younger workers who were just working a job, but those of us who have families to care for are going to be severely crippled trying to compete on the market now.”

He’s now working on getting re-certified in equipment operating skills, and hopes to find work soon.

It might have helped if there’d been a little more warning or some help for transitioning the workers before the sudden layoffs, he said.

“Searching the job boards over the last couple days, I found it very upsetting that they still have many open job postings online as well, including one posted on the same day as we were laid off.”

It looks bad, he says, even if they were legally within their rights to lay off workers that hadn’t yet passed probation.

Some of the record of employment documents indicate the workers “dismissals within probation period” versus a reason like “shortage of work.”

“This, I believe, makes each of us look bad, and does not reflect the truth of the matter. There was no work. I am not sure, but I believe this will impact those of us who would have been eligible for EI as well.”

His understanding is layoffs were across the board.

“Every department felt the cuts. Machinists, welders, electricians, and painters were all affected. From what I have heard, it was every employee hired in the last six months that was let go.

“Some even that had passed their probation period were let go.”

He underlined he is not trying to a martyr or a hero by telling his story. He loved his job and was very sorry to lose it.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said the IMW job losses were “very unfortunate” for Chilliwack, and the number she was quoted was about 90 jobs lost.

“Some things are outside our control, and this is very unfortunate,” she said.

City and CEPCO officials are still working hard to bring businesses and employers to town, and to work on business retention, Gaetz said.

She remembered the devastating losses in 1997 when CFB Chilliwack shut down.

“We lost an entire base and we struggled for a couple of years as a result. “I hope we will quickly recover from this, and people will quickly regain their footing.”

Staff cuts to the local workforce at IMW were confirmed by IMW’s parent company, Clean Energy Fuels. But the corporate spokesperson did not put an exact figure to the number of jobs lost in Chilliwack, in a brief statement sent to The Progress almost two weeks ago.

Clean Energy officials stated in a followup that they were not required to disclose the job loss total.

The number of IMW layoffs was below the total required by law to report publicly, which is 50, said a company spokesman for Clean Energy Fuels. The total is also below the figures being quoted by others in this story, which ranged from 85 to 92, he said.

Rising demand for CNG equipment worldwide led the IMW workforce to be doubled in size in 2014 to almost 300 jobs compared to 2012. “Cyclical fluctuations” in manufacturing and weak global markets are the reasons for the layoffs, according to Clean Energy reps.

However “growing demand” for IMW compressors, technology and equipment is still strong around the world, they said.

IMW is a wholly owned subsidiary of Clean Energy Fuels, manufacturing gas compressors, dispensers, storage systems, and control systems from the facility on Progress Way. The CNG fuelling systems are designed for public, truck and fleet fuelling stations and more.