FCA's Windsor Assembly Plant, Caesars Windsor reopening uncertain says union president

The future of two of Windsor's largest workplaces is still up in the air.

Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy said talks ongoing but no set dates

FCA's Windsor Assembly Plant was, at one point, slated to open May 4. But that date has been pushed back and it's not clear when it will reopen. (Colin Cote-Paulette/Radio-Canada)

The future of two of Windsor's largest workplaces is still up in the air.

Both Caesars Windsor and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Canada's Windsor Assembly Plant have been closed since mid-March.

As the president of Unifor Local 444, Dave Cassidy represents approximately 2,300 employees at the casino, and 6,400 at the assembly plant.

The assembly plant — which at one point was slated to open May 4 — has set up tents outside of the entry gates where employees will be screened before entering. 

"Those tents are going to be almost like a staging area," said Cassidy. 

An app has been created for employees to answer various medical questions, and they will have their temperatures checked before entering the factory. 

"They're trying to do whatever they can to make sure they can bring the people back," said Cassidy, explaining there are added barriers for work stations, personal protective gear for workers, and officials are working on ways people can safely physically distance from one another while at work stations and also on breaks. 

"We spent hours upon hours on what it's going to look like in the facility," said Cassidy. 

But a start date has not been finalized.

"They're aiming now for the 19th," he said. "But I don't know if it's doable."

Cassidy said stricter work orders in Michigan are impacting the flow of parts to the Windsor area. 

"That's a big factor," he said. 

Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy said an app was developed to help screen factory employees before they enter the plant (Jason Viau/CBC)

Kathy McKay will have been working for Chrysler for 25 years this June. She said she knows they have to go back eventually, but McKay is worried about safely social distancing in the plant. 

"I'm concerned as to the conditions that we normally work under, social distancing will not be possible and even simple things like using the restroom are going to be complicated," she said.

"We have to go up 27 steps to the washroom. Trying to pass people going up and down and especially for women workers that generally have smaller washrooms," she said. "We end up standing in line an awful lot just to use the washroom, the sink or a trough sink that everybody has to stand around."

Kathy McKay has worked for Chrysler for 25 years. She said she's worried about safety measures when the factory starts up, and how the closure will affect the third shift which was slated to expire in July. (Submitted by Kathy McKay)

McKay said the company issued a "robocall" to employees, explaining that a back-to-work package was on its way. She said she hasn't received information about the return yet.

"I'm actually more concerned now about losing the third shift," she said. "Before we had an end date of July. I don't know how this will affect it. I don't know how this will affect the community."

FCA has extended the third shift a number of times since announcing plans in March 2019 to terminate the shift. 

As of March 2020, the third shift is set to be terminated on July 13

The union president will have a walk-through of the facility this week, and is hopeful people can get back to work soon. 

"There's some anxieties out there," Cassidy said of the employees he represents. 

Many are worried about making ends meet even with employment insurance coming through. 

In an email, FCA Canada spokesperson LouAnn Gosselin wrote that there is no official return date just yet. 

"More details about back-to-work protocols will be shared closer to the time," Gosselin wrote, adding "there are no further announcements [regarding the] third shift."

Worries casino could be 'last in the province' to open

While there appears to be movement at the assembly plant, Caesars Windsor might be more difficult to get up and running again.

"I'm concerned it's going to be one of the last in the province to open ... the casino business," said Cassidy, citing the many challenges for reopening the large facility. 

Caesars Windsor officials have a huge task set out for them, as they attempt to plan what a reopening may look like. There is no set date for casinos to open in the province. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

There are ongoing discussions about things like dividers between players, the chips they use, various gaming floor protocols, and if the hotel will reopen and if so, how. 

"It's such an unknown at this time," said Cassidy. "My fear is the casino will be one of the last to open up in the province. We have a lot of workers there that depend on it."

Cassidy said casino officials are "right on top of it" when it comes to ongoing discussions and how and when to restart. 

However, the province is slowly phasing in a reopening strategy and as Cassidy mentioned, it's unclear when a business like a casino may be added to the list. 

The Ontario government is allowing some workplaces to reopen Monday, as long as they meet "strict public health measures and operate safely during the COVID-19 outbreak."

The province announced on Friday the following businesses are allowed to reopen or prepare to reopen under strict guidelines:

  • Garden centres and nurseries with curbside pickup and delivery only.
  • Lawn care and landscaping.
  • Additional essential construction projects that include shipping and logistics; broadband, telecommunications, and digital infrastructure; any other project that supports the improved delivery of goods and services; municipal projects; colleges and universities; child-care centres; schools; and site preparation, excavation, and servicing for institutional, commercial, industrial and residential development. 
  • Automatic and self-serve car washes.
  • Auto dealerships, open by appointment only.
  • Golf courses may prepare their courses for the upcoming season, but not open to the public.
  • Marinas may also begin preparations for the recreational boating season by servicing boats and other watercraft and placing boats in the water, but not open to the public. Boats and watercraft must be secured to a dock in the marina until public access is allowed.

The province also noted in its news release that it is critical that people continue to stay home, practise physical distancing, and only go out for essential reasons.

With files from Amy Dodge and Kaitie Fraser


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