FCA suspends production at Windsor Assembly Plant amid COVID-19 pandemic

FCA's Windsor Assembly Plant has closed down operations for the time being as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Move no surprise, says Unifor president Jerry Dias

About 1,500 employees have lost their jobs due to the cancellation of the third shift at Windsor Assembly Plant. (Colin Cote-Paulette/Radio-Canada)

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' (FCA) Windsor Assembly Plant has temporarily suspended operations and indefinitely laid off employees as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Unifor Local 444 confirmed in a Facebook post on Wednesday that FCA has decided to shut down production facilities "until further notice."

Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy said Wednesday it's not clear how long the closure will last. 

"It's frustrating for everybody, and we recognize that," he said. "The only communication that I have received from the company is they're going to do a robocall to the members and let them know that they're not to report to the midnight shift or day shift for tomorrow."

Cassidy said employees will be able to receive employment insurance, adding senior members will also be able to receive supplemental unemployment benefits (SUB).

Tap on the player below to watch Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy address the FCA shutdown:

"However, for our parts suppliers and our junior workers, there is no SUB for any of those workers," he said.

In addition to affected immediate employees, Cassidy said the production suspension would "really negatively affect" employees who work at feeder plants in the region. 

In a statement issued Wednesday, FCA Canada said the company is "evaluating the impact of all steps being taken inside the company and on macro-economic conditions related to the Coronavirus emergency" on current financial guidance.

"We will provide an update on our financial guidance when that evaluation is complete and we have sufficient visibility on market conditions," FCA added in its statement.

'This is no surprise to us'

The news of the Windsor Assembly Plant's suspension came after Ford and General Motors confirmed in press statements Wednesday that all North American factories will temporarily close. 

Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, said he knew the Windsor Assembly Plant's closure was inevitable, adding there's no way to shut down automotive factories in the U.S. without having an effect on Canada.

"This is no surprise to us," he said. "Frankly, we've been expecting it for quite a while."

We've got 40,000 direct employees in the assembly plants in Canada.- Jerry Dias, Unifor National president

Dias said the priority is to maintain individual safety. 

"Number two has to be how we're going to deal with this in the short-term and the long-term," he added. 

According to Dias, more than one million jobs will be affected in the short-term. 

"We've got 40,000 direct employees in the assembly plants in Canada," he said. "You've got another 75,000, 80,000 in the supply chain. You multiply that by nine or 10, that'll give you the overall economic damage."

'I've stocked up on my food'

Lino LoMedico, an FCA employee who has worked for the company for 28 years, said news of the suspension and layoffs wasn't a surprise to many workers.

"We know it was coming," he said. "And not only that, it's everything that's been taking place around us — seeing our fellow co-workers over in the U.S., that they had issues over there as well."

LoMedico said that he didn't believe FCA had a choice in closing the Windsor Assembly Plant, though he said the  company has been "extremely vague" in terms of communicating with employees about COVID-19.

We know it was coming.- Lino LoMedico, Employee, FCA Windsor Assembly Plant

"A lot of it was rumour, hearsay here and there," he said. "Just bits and pieces of what we could muster together."

Approximately 166 FCA Windsor Assembly Plant employees engaged in a one-day work stoppage last week, citing concerns of being exposed to COVID-19. 

An employee at the plant was placed under self-quarantine as a result of "possible secondary contact" to the illness, the company said in a Friday, March 13 statement. 

Production resumed around 3 p.m. on Friday. 

Kathy McKay, a Windsor Assembly Plant employee who was worked for the company for 25 years, said she plans on self-isolating, adding "it's just too much to really understand how any one person is feeling" because everyone is in a different situation.

"I've stocked up on my food, the only places I plan on going from now on will be food stores," she said. "I've got at least three weeks of food for me and my small dog, that's all. That's all I have in my household right now."

McKay said she's mainly concerned about the potential spread of COVID-19 as a result of close proximity shared between employees at the Windsor Assembly Plant. 

"No one wants to bring it home to our friends, our families or even to the poor workers that are stuck working at grocery stores."


With files from Sameer Chhabra, Dale Molnar, Kaitie Fraser and Sanjay Maru