FCA Windsor Assembly Plant eliminating third shift in end of June

The FCA Windsor Assembly Plant will eliminate its third shift on June 29, the company announced Thursday.

The termination of the shift had been extended on four previous occasions

About 1,500 employees will lose their jobs due to the cancellation of the third shift at the FCA Windsor Assembly Plant. After multiple extensions, the company announced Thursday that the termination date has been finalized for June 29, 2020. (Colin Cote-Paulette/Radio-Canada)

The FCA Windsor Assembly Plant will eliminate its third shift on June 29, the company announced Thursday.

"This decision comes as the Company works to align volumes with demand while phasing out production of the Dodge Grand Caravan at the end of May," FCA added in a statement.

FCA said it will make "every effort" to place laid-off employees in open, full-time positions as they become available based on seniority. The company adds it will offer retirement packages to eligible employees.

Production of the Dodge Grand Caravan will cease at the plant on May 22. Between that date and June 29, a "transition period" will begin to reduce the plant from a three-shift operation down to two.

The elimination of the third shift will potentially have an "immediate effect" on feeder plants, Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy said during a press conference Thursday.

"The community of Windsor-Essex will be devastated ... For every one of them jobs in the Windsor Assembly Plant, it's 10 spin-off jobs in the community," said Cassidy.

"It's a sad day in Windsor and Essex County — and at Local 444."

Hear more from Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy on the announcement:

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, but officials at the time said business would be reviewed on a "month-to-month" basis.

The termination of the third shift will affect about 1,500 workers.

When asked what his message is to the membership following the news, Cassidy said it's important that workers continue to "trust your union." He adds Unifor Local 444 will do "everything possible" for all workers affected.

 As for his message to FCA, that remains the same.

"We need new product. They know we need new product," said Cassidy. "We've had [the Dodge Grand Caravan] minivan since 1983. We know the market's shrinking. But whatever they bring there, we will make sure that we build it right."

Unifor National president Jerry Dias says he's not giving up in terms of trying to keep the third shift, adding the highly-contentious topic will open up broader issues during contract negotiations this coming September. (CBC)

Unifor National president Jerry Dias said he's "completely disappointed" with FCA's decision, adding the move will open up broader issues during contract negotiations this fall.

"It's not just a question of Chrysler in Windsor, but we need to know what Chrysler is doing in Brampton and we have some real problems with their Etobicoke facility," said Dias. "So it appears as if we're heading for the perfect storm with Fiat Chrysler in September."

"Candidly, there's not going to be an agreement with Fiat Chrysler until we find a solution for the Windsor Assembly Plant."

Dias said it would not come as a surprise to him if FCA's final termination date of June 29 ends up changing for a fifth time. He adds it's important for workers to understand that the fight to keep the third shift won't stop here.

"We have not thrown in the towel on the elimination of the third shift. We're going to talk to Fiat Chrysler about another vehicle to complement the existing Pacifica," said Dias, adding this situation points to the strong need for a national auto strategy.

"Every country in the world that has a major auto industry has a national strategy to preserve the jobs," said Dias. "I take a look at Germany. I take a look at Japan. I take a look at Korea. I take a look at the different nations around the world."

"There is a coordinated strategy between federal and provincial governments."

Automotive News Canada editor Greg Layson says minivan sales have declined 'as people flee to crossovers and sport utility vehicles.' (Jonathan Pinto)

Greg Layson, digital and mobile editor for Automotive News Canada, agrees. He points to an impossible challenge for Canada to compete against "low wages in Mexico" and "incredibly huge incentives in the United States."

He adds while news of the third shift's elimination was "telegraphed for a while," Layson was surprised by the exact date.

"I'm actually surprised in the global sense — the market that we're in right now — that they would extend the shift to June 29 ... because we had heard the end of Q1, which would have been the end of March," said Layson, adding minivan sales have declined "as people flee to crossovers and sport utility vehicles."

Back in 2015, the Windsor Assembly Plant was shut down for 14 weeks for major retooling and the installation of more than 800 robot assistants — costing FCA about $2 billion.

Layson points to the upgrades as a clear sign that FCA won't just walk away from Windsor, leaving "wiggle room" for the company to introduce a new product into the plant, like the Voyager.

"I was in Florida earlier this month and I saw several Voyagers on the freeway — so they are selling in America," said Layson. "So the question becomes does Chrysler have something coming that can be built on that platform in that factory?"

with files from Kaitie Fraser and Sanjay Maru


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