MONTREAL (CP) -- A pall has enveloped a Quebecor World Inc. plant in Toronto that printed the defunct Canadian Tire catalogue after the struggling commercial printer announced plans Thursday to shed hundreds of jobs as part of its ongoing three-year restructuring.
''It's a sad day,'' Mark Owen, president of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers local representing press operators and maintenance workers.
He said workers are devastated by the layoffs, even though some foresaw this eventuality because half the plants four aging presses had been idled since January.
''I found out officially today, but the writing was on the wall,'' said Owen, a 26-year employee who is one of the fortunate workers who will retain his job.
About 320 workers will be cut from the west-end Toronto plant and another 350 will be affected when a plant in North Haven, Conn., is closed altogether by the end of June.
Quebecor World, which is operating under court protection from creditors, said the layoffs are part of a three-year retooling plan that is designed to trim costs and improve productivity by consolidating volume in larger and more efficient facilities.
The program includes investing $1 billion in modern presses and technology in fewer but larger facilities to enhance performance and customer service.
Quebecor World's Islington plant in Toronto prints retail flyers, catalogues and binds directories.
After the retooling, binding operations at the facility will continue with 60 workers. Its primary contract will be to bind the Yellow Pages (TSX:YLO.UN) phone directories printed at non-unionized Quebecor Media presses in an adjacent building. Its the same press that prints the Toronto Sun.
Among the marquee products printed at the soon-to-be mothballed Quebecor World facility was the iconic Canadian Tire (TSX:CTC) catalogue that was sent to millions of Canadian homes for the last 80 years.
Printing of the Sears catalogue, another major account for the plant, will be transferred to other locations.
The loss of the Canadian Tire catalogue was just one of many challenges confronting the Toronto plant, Owen said.
''It wasn't the biggest nail in the coffin but it certainly didn't help.''
Duncan Brown, national director of CEP Graphical union, said the plant's fate was sealed when the retailing giant announced last month the decision to make the catalogue available only on its website.
But the lack of technological investments coupled with the high Canadian dollar and a collapse of the manufacturing sector in Central Canada were also contributing factors.
''(Quebecor World has) had an investment program over the last few years overall as a company but in some cases it's been too little, too late,'' he said in an interview.
''This is just one of the plants that is paying the price for it.''
Quebecor World's job cuts were raised Thursday with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty when the union met to discuss manufacturing job losses in the province.
''We impressed upon him the need for the government to intervene in these situations and make sure that there are no options left unexplored in terms of actual closures,'' said Bob Huget, Ontario vice-president of the CEP.
He called upon the premier to convene a round-table to address retention and job creation strategies.
The Connecticut plant primarily produces general commercial printed products.
The job losses come a month after the Montreal-based company closed a 37-year-old facility that prints magazine and promotional retail advertising inserts in Magog, Que. About 300 employees lost their jobs on top of 200 already on temporary layoff.
Company spokesman Tony Ross wouldn't indicate if more layoffs are planned.
''This is the announcement that we're making today and we expect to conclude the three-year retooling plan in 2008.''
Since 2005, Quebecor World's global workforce has shrunk by nearly 18 per cent to 28,000.
Brown said he doesn't foresee layoffs elsewhere because the company has removed a lot of capacity. But isn't so sure.
''I believe that there will be others.''
Earlier this week, the printer announced a US$2.2-billion loss for 2007.