Some workers leave Windsor Assembly Plant as retirees after FCA ends third shift
Feeder plant job losses to be expected, says chamber of commerce president
After 27 years, the third shift at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Windsor Assembly Plant ended early Friday morning — eliminating about a third of the plant's workforce.
"The mood is unfortunately somber," said second vice-president of Unifor Local 195 Robert Kennedy.
"They've been working for many years now on the midnight shift and the news from Chrysler is affecting the workers and their families."
The final shift began around midnight Friday and ended around 7 a.m.
The termination of the third shift affects about 1,500 workers, though Kennedy noted that the union is working to save some of the jobs and the company has given buyouts to more than 700 people.
"Twenty-seven years this shift's been here," said Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy. " Every one of us wear it on our sleeve."
According to Kennedy, some workers are being moved to one of the other two shifts and some are accepting temporary part-time work.
Kennedy added that they are encouraging people who can retire to do so and looking at layoffs for top seniority employees so that junior workers can keep their jobs.
Assembler John Mailloux was one of the workers who left the plant a retiree on Friday.
"I've retired so someone young can have a job," he said. "I'm done and it's all good."
He said the final shift was "dramatic" because he's spent the last few decades working with the people on that shift and now he probably won't see them again.
"There's nothing you can do about it, it's reality, that's life," Mailloux said. "It's going to happen, got to move on."
Along with Mailloux, assembly workers Darlene Stroesser and Gerald Matthews left the plant together for the last time Friday morning.
The couple met on the midnight shift 24 years ago, they married, had a family and now, they've both retired.
"We'd drive in to work together, go home together, drive back into work, work all night," Stroesser said.
"It's bittersweet, we're fortunate enough to get buyouts and move on with our lives...it's bitter because of the young ones losing their jobs," Matthews said.
Above all else, they said they'll miss the people on the job but are looking forward to travelling once the pandemic slows down.
Ripple effect for feeder plant jobs
"We've known that this is coming, but it is still very disappointing," Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce president Rakesh Naidu said. "It's a huge loss for a community… there's decades of great contribution to the local economy."
Though he didn't have an exact figure, Naidu estimated that the loss of the shift could impact the GDP by millions of dollars.
Naidu also said that for every job lost by the termination of the third shift, another six to nine will be indirectly impacted in the supply chain at feeder plants such as Syncreon and Flex-N-Gate.
"As we lose the jobs, that will have an incremental effect that will definitely create pain regionally, locally, even outside," he said.
The shift, which has been in place since 1993 was originally expected to end by Sept. 2019. That date was later extended to Oct. 21, 2019, followed by another extension to the end of the calendar year. FCA then said the shift elimination would be extended "until further notice."
A fourth extension came in November, as Unifor announced the termination of the third shift would be delayed until the end of March 2020, but officials at the time said business would be reviewed on a "month-to-month" basis.
By March, it was announced that July 13 would be the last day, though the shift is now ending three days shy of that.
The plant itself has had more than $2 billion invested into it, including modern infrastructure, and has a well-trained workforce — all of which makes it an asset to the company, Naidu said.
For these reasons, he said he's optimistic that they can secure a "much needed" second product.
"Once that happens we can see some good days back in the plant and back in the community," he said.
In September, Kennedy said he's hoping they can negotiate having more products at the Windsor Assembly Plant, which could potentially open up more positions.
Cassidy said they are chasing to have more product into the plant and that he's confident they will get people back to work.
The company announced they'd stop production of the Dodge Grand Caravan, one of the vehicles built at the plant, in February. Meanwhile sales of the Chrysler Pacifica, also assembled at the factory, have seen a steady decline — dropping by 52 per cent from last year.
The ending of the shift and turmoil that the industry is facing should make the government take a "deep look" at Canada's automotive sector and create a plan to save it, Kennedy said.
"[The auto sector] is being depleted everywhere," he said. "We can't continue, [but] we have to have manufacturing in this country."