Windsor

Microchip shortage continues to hit auto sector hard, with double-digit unemployment in Windsor

The Stellantis Windsor Assembly plant goes back into production Monday after months of rotating shutdowns. Employees are also affected in feeder plants and the shutdowns have caused massive unemployment.

5,000 to 7,000 jobs affected in local manufacturing sector

J.P. LeFave has been unemployed for all except 12 weeks this year due to the microchip shortage. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

New cars rolled off a truck at Performance Ford Friday, but it's a sight that's not as common as it used to be.

"Our inventory levels have been down to, I would say, around 30 per cent," said sales manager Moe Hazime.

But Hazime says this dealership is one of the luckier ones.

Greg Layson, digital and mobile producer for Automotive News Canada, said plenty of dealerships are low on inventory amid a global shortage of semi-conductors, which are used in the making of cars and electronic devices.

An FCA employee works on the assembly line at the Windsor Assembly Plant in 2016. (CBC News)

"I won't name the one that I've seen, but there is a particular brand that has four vehicles out in front of its store right now that aren't made by that automaker. They're used vehicles," said Layson.

He says North American automakers have been hit the hardest but Honda and Toyota are about to feel the pinch.

"Honda and Toyota are going to cut production here in the fall, and when they stop production, there's usually about a month to a month and a half before the dealers are actually affected. So anyone that doesn't have anything on their lot right now and production stops, it's going to be a long time for those dealer lots to be restocked," said Layson.

The Stellantis Windsor Assembly Plant goes back into production this week after being idled for several months. The plant has only produced minivans for 12 weeks this year.

When that plant goes down, it affects the feeder plants that produce parts for the plant.

The shutdowns have resulted in thousands of job losses in the manufacturing sector, contributing to the region's unemployment rate of 10.6 per cent — three points higher than the provincial average.

"In the Windsor [Census metropolitan area], we would typically have about 40,000 to 41,000 jobs employed in manufacturing. That would be full-time and part-time, and this year we're at about 33,200 jobs in manufacturing," said Justin Falconer, CEO of Workforce WindsorEssex.

J.P. LeFave is the single father of two daughters. He works as a forklift driver at the Syncreon plant in Windsor, which handles parts distribution for Stellantis.

He has been unemployed for the same number of weeks the Stellantis plant has been down.

"The bills are getting paid, but there's not a whole lot at the end, once the bills are paid," he said.

His unemployment benefits are about to run out in December.

"I might be coming in somewhere four to six hundred dollars short every month if I'm just collecting unemployment," he said.

A lot at a Chrysler dealership in Windsor usually is packed with vehicles but a microchip shortage has led to shortage of new vehicles to sell. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

Unifor Local 195 represents Syncreon and 20 other feeder plants. President Emile Nabbout says the federal government needs to work with a private firm to create a microchip production facility here in Windsor so we don't have to rely on offshore imports.

"It would be something we could do as a Canadian-made product," said Nabbout.

However, Layson says it will take many years to get the "very expensive, very detailed, very complex microchip factories and so to get one up and running to solve this problem isn't going to happen."

He expects the shortage to continue into the middle of next year.

Meanwhile, Unifor officials are working with MPs to get the federal government to extend unemployment benefits because Nabbout said the workers are having a tough time gaining enough weeks worked to qualify for benefits.

He says some of the feeder plants are also struggling to stay afloat.

"If you don't produce, how do you pay the bills?" he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dale Molnar

Video Journalist

Dale Molnar is an award-winning video journalist at CBC Windsor. He is a graduate of the University of Windsor and has worked in television, radio and print.

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