Government's support of auto industry called 'shameful, frustrating'

A celebration of the all new Chrysler Pacifica in Windsor, Ont., on Friday quickly turned into the public flogging of all levels of government in Canada, when Unifor officials, present and past, took the stage.
Unifor Local 444 president Dino Chiodo taunts Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens on Friday. (FCA Screen Grab)

A celebration of the all new Chrysler Pacifica in Windsor, Ont., on Friday quickly turned into a public flogging when Unifor officials, present and past, took the stage and attacked all levels of government in Canada.

Unifor slammed the federal government for not investing in the auto industry and criticized Windsor's municipal government not supporting and celebrating the industry, particularly Windsor Assembly Plant and its role in the community.

The union tossed around words like "shameful" and "frustrating" when speaking of government.

After Fiat Chrysler Automobiles president and CEO Sergio Marchionne praised the company's new product and seemed to genuinely thank the employees for their quality work, Unifor officials took over in a loud, boisterous fashion.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias spoke first. He encouraged unionized employees to move the front and kick management "to the back of the room."

"I'm only kidding for Christ's sake. Reid, you invested two billions bucks in this place, you can sit anywhere you want," Dias said to FCA Canada president Reid Bigland.

'Need government support'

Dias didn't take long to then start firing shots at the government.

"I'm going to use this opportunity to say to the federal and provincial politicians who are not here – and they're not here because they didn't invest in this community and they didn't invest in our jobs – so I'm going to use this op to say the successful auto industries around the world need government understanding, need government support," Dias shouted.

Two years ago, the governing federal Conservatives and Ontario Liberals didn't invest in Chrysler's $2-billion US retooling of the Windsor Assembly Plant. At the same time, former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak claimed FCA was looking for "ransom money."

Negotiations between government and the company eventually broke down.

Marchionne then called the issue "a political football" and said FCA would pay for retooling on its own.

"So, I'm saying to [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau and the new government in Ottawa," Dias continued during his diatribe, "it's time for the government to understand the roles and respect that must be given to the auto players, because of the responsibilities and the pivotal roles we play in our communities."

'Big gaping hole'

Dias then passed the baton to Unifor Local 444 president Dino Chiodo, who almost immediately began ridiculing Windsor mayors, past and present.

"I'm sure people want to hear something about bargaining, but this isn't the day to talk about negotiations," Chiodo said.

For Chiodo, it was a day to attack government at all levels, especially in Windsor.

"We talked about no provincial money, no federal money but we haven't heard anything from a municipal level either. Sure, we've heard about the mayor come out and talk about call centre jobs at minimum wage," Chiodo said sarcastically about current Windsor mayor, Drew Dilkens.

"We've heard the mayor talk about the airport getting 50 jobs and we've got to be proud about what we've accomplished for my friend Eddie," Chiodo chided, referencing former Windsor mayor Eddie Francis, who spearheaded expansion at the Windsor airport.

Chiodo said there would be "a big gaping hole" in the community without Windsor Assembly Plant.

"First and foremost, I would think the mayor of this community would be saying, 'Windsor Assembly Plant, thanks for all you do. Fiat Chrysler, thanks for your investment.' But we're still waiting for what they have to say," Chiodo said, goading Dilkens by holding his left hand to his ear, like former WWE wrestler Hulk Hogan would do while inciting the crowd. "That's shameful."

Ads and meetings with ministers

It's not that the City of Windsor and its last two mayors haven't done anything for the auto industry.

Both were part of the Ontario Auto-Mayors. Under the leadership of Francis, the City of Windsor placed half-page ads in the National Post and Globe and Mail newspapers to take on Hudak. At the time, Francis told CBC News the national ad campaign cost $18,000.

Last month, Dilkens scored face time with Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains, a high-ranking federal minister whose portfolio includes the auto sector.

And, Dilkens said last month he's pursuing companies to test self-driving cars in Windsor.

CBC made a request to speak with the mayor Friday.

'Scare of my life'

It was after Chiodo's appearance that Marchionne "got the scare of my life."

Former CAW national president Ken Lewenza, a bombastic and excitable man, showed up on stage.

"This is a humble time, a time of reflection," Lewenza screamed, fists clenched. "It's a time of recognizing that if you don't think about the past and understand the past, you can't move to the future."

Lewenza never directly referenced politics or contract negotiations, but he made it very clear, all sides must remember where the auto industry was in 2008, at the beginning of a global recession.

General Motors and Chrysler needed federal money in both Canada and the U.S. to stay afloat.

"We can never have a past of instability. We can never have a past of bankruptcy," Lewenza pleaded.