Lion Electric in Joliet laying off workers

Union rep says layoffs include Joliet, come on top of 11 job cuts last year

A bus sits elevated at the Lion Electric manufacturing facility on Friday, July 21st, 2023 in Joliet.

The Lion Electric Company, which opened an electric bus and truck factory in Joliet in late 2022 with the promise of hiring hundreds of workers, is laying off employees.

The job cuts will be the second round of Lion Electric layoffs to affect the Joliet plant, which employs about 150 production workers, said Chris Tucker, an organizer with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers. The union is attempting to organize workers at the Joliet plant.

Tucker said the union has not yet confirmed the number of workers to be laid off in Joliet.

But 11 workers were laid off in Joliet in the fall, he said.

“Almost everyone was a union supporter,” Tucker said.

Lion Electric announced Thursday that it will lay off 120 workers, most of them in Canada. The Montreal-based company will employee 1,150 workers, including 600 in manufacturing, after the layoffs, according to the Lion Electric announcement.

Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy speaks at the grand opening of the Lion Electric manufacturing facility on Friday, July 21st, 2023 in Joliet.

A Lion Electric spokeswoman would not comment on how many layoffs would occur in Joliet, saying the company will not breakdown the 120 layoffs by locations.

Spokeswoman Marie-Eve Labranche also would not say how many workers are employed at the Joliet plant.

“We are not giving breakdown by facilities or installations,” Labranche said.

The number of employees in Joliet, however, could affect more than $8 million in state and local tax incentives provided Lion Electric if the job numbers don’t improve.

The state of Illinois provided $7.9 million in tax incentives based on Lion Electric bringing 745 to bring Lion Electric to Joliet within three years of starting production The company announced production of its first bus in Joliet in November 2022.

Local taxing bodies also provided tax incentives based on future hiring.

Lion management had said they expect to hire 1,400 workers by the fourth year of production at the Joliet plant.

But the company announced 150 layoffs companywide in November and continued the downward trend in employment with the announcement of 120 job cuts on Thursday.

A mechanic works on the steering dashboard assembly at the Lion Electric manufacturing facility on Friday, July 21st, 2023 in Joliet.

The layoffs in November came just four months after Gov. JB Pritzker and other officials joined Lion Electric executives for a ceremonial grand opening of the Joliet plant.

Lion in February reported a net loss of $103.8 million for 2023, which followed a net profit of $17.8 million the previous year.

Lion CE0-Founder Mark Bedard attributed the latest layoffs to a delay in Canada’s Zero-Emission Transit Fund, which provides government support to public transit agencies and school bus fleets that switch to electric vehicles.

Governor JB Pritzker, center left, and Marc Bedard, CEO of Lion Electric, cut an electric cord in place of a ceremonial ribbon at the grand opening of the Lion Electric manufacturing facility on Friday, July 21st, 2023 in Joliet.

“We sincerely regret the impact of this decision on our valued employees,” Bedard in a written statement said of the layoffs. “It is however crucial to rightsize our workforce to the current environment. We remain confident in our long-term growth and that of our industry and, keeping our focus on our profitability objectives and our production requirements, we will continue to work tirelessly on the execution of our business plan.”

Expansion of the electric bus market in the United States also is spurred by government funding to support the switch to electric vehicles.

The Machinists union issued a statement saying it was “outraged” at the layoffs of 120 workers “and was watching closely for any retaliatory measures toward pro-union employees” at a time that the union is organizing Lion Electric workers in Joliet and Canada.

“It’s especially troubling that in the midst of laying off its workers, Lion Electric just handed out 30% bonuses to its corporate executives,” according to the IAM statement. “The IAM is continuing to gather information on this layoff announcement and will vigorously defend Lion Electric workers using any resource available to us.”

Lion is not the only Illinois electric vehicle manufacturer laying off workers.

Rivian, which employs 8,000 workers at an electrical vehicle manufacturing plant in Normal, this week confirmed it would conduct more layoffs following a 10% reduction in its non-manufacturing workforce announced in February.