A Winnipeg union official confirmed Sunday that Aveos Fleet Performance has shut down its plants across Canada affecting more than 3,000 unionized workers.
Aveos is the private firm created in 2007 when Air Canada converted its maintenance and repair division into a stand-alone operation.
Reports on Sunday said up to 1,800 Montreal workers were affected, along with 350 in Winnipeg and 250 in Vancouver.
"A couple weeks ago, we started to get some real bad feelings from the company financially," said Lorne Hammerberg, a Winnipeg-based Aveos mechanic and the president of Local 714 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. "I think everyone is in shock and disbelief."
In Winnipeg, Sunday's closure is the culmination of several rounds of layoffs, weeklong furloughs and suspicions about Air Canada's commitment to the company.
Air Canada is a part owner of Aveos and makes up about 90 per cent of the company's customer base, but the union says Air Canada has been sending maintenance work that's exclusive to Aveos to other companies recently.
Some workers accused Air Canada of deliberately starving Aveos of work in order to get around rules put in place when the airline was privatized. Those rules mandate that Air Canada maintain service centres in several cities, including Winnipeg.
Union leaders were already worried Air Canada would ship its heavy maintenance business to low-wage companies when the contract with Aveos expires in 2013. Both Air Canada and Aveos have rejected that suggestion.
Aveos' Winnipeg base mostly repairs and maintains Air Canada's Embraer jets, which are smaller and newer than much of the company's fleet and so don't require as much upkeep.
Hammerberg said the only other facility that can service Embraer jets is in Nashville, Tenn., so it's not clear where the work will go.
Workers laid off Sunday said there was not a single plane in the Aveos base. Normally, there are as many as six.
The closure affects everyone from modestly paid data entry clerks to highly skilled, licensed aircraft technicians who make $35 per hour.
No one from Aveos could be reached for comment Sunday evening.
Last week, insiders told the Montreal Gazette the company is no longer making employees' pension contributions or maintaining their benefit packages and could file for bankruptcy protection or merge soon.
But Aveos issued a statement denying it had stopped making contributions, although there were reports that a training class on a new parts-tracking system was cancelled suddenly.
A spokesman for Air Canada repeated comments made by the airline last week, when the union began raising concerns over the viability of Aveos.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said Air Canada has always obtained additional services from other maintenance and repair providers.
"We do not comment about speculation concerning our suppliers," he said.