Ontario court quashes decision that would have closed Nemak's Windsor plant

A divisional court has denied an arbitrator's decision to close Nemak's Windsor aluminum auto-parts plant, which Unifor says moves the union one step closer to sparing nearly 200 local jobs.

The union is fighting to spare 200 local jobs

In 2019, Nemak announced it was closing its Windsor Plant and moving the work to Mexico, but Unifor fought back saying that the company had to abide by its collective agreement with workers. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

A divisional court has denied an arbitrator's decision to close Nemak's Windsor aluminum auto-parts plant, which Unifor says moves the union one step closer to sparing nearly 200 local jobs.

On Tuesday, a panel of Ontario Divisional Court judges quashed a November 2019 arbitrator's decision that had permitted the future closure of Nemak's Windsor plant and the relocation of that work to Mexico. 

The court accepted Unifor's argument that the arbitrator evidence when making his decision. 

"Today is a great day for our members at Nemak who spent months waiting patiently for the court to rule on the future of their jobs at the Windsor Aluminum Plant," Unifor National President Jerry Dias said in a news release Wednesday.

"This is precisely the outcome our union and our members were fighting for and the ruling could not be any more clear — when you have a collective agreement with workers you have to live up to its terms."

CBC News contacted Nemak for comment but the company has not yet responded. 

Unifor Local 200 president John D'Agnolo says he looks forward to bringing the case back before the arbitrator. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

How we got here

Unifor says the union and Nemak agreed in 2015 that any new work for General Motors would be brought to Nemak's Windsor plant, which would be the "sole source" for this work. 

In 2016 workers agreed to a wage freeze if the company held work there until 2022, according to Unifor local 200 president John D'Agnolo. 

Then, in 2019, the company announced it would close the plant by mid-2020 and move the work to Mexico, citing economic reasons.

News of the closure led to rallys, striking workers, a blockade outside the plant, an order from the Ontario Labour Relations Board for employees to go back to work, upheld by a local judge who also ordered an end to what he called an "unlawful strike."

When the union and workers continued their job action, a contempt hearing was called. That hearing was adjourned, with the judge reserving his decision, and directing both parties to try again to work out their differences. 

When Unifor and Nemak couldn't come to an agreement on their own, the two sides agreed to arbitration, and arbitrator Norm Jesin was assigned to the case in November 2019.

Jesin ruled against Unifor and in his decision said that Nemak could proceed with its plant closure, despite the terms set aside in the worker's collective agreement.

The union launched a judicial review of the arbitrator's decision, which was heard in February before the Divisional Court in Toronto. 

The court has now found that the arbitrator misused evidence from the 2015 negotiation of the workers' collective agreement. The ruling means that the union's grievance will be sent back to the same arbitrator for a new decision.

D'Agnolo said he's optimistic and "can't wait" to be in front of the arbitrator again. 

"When we look at the arguments, I thought they were common sense arguments," he said. "You always worry, but at the end of the day i was very hopeful and the energy those workers had and the support they got within our community was absolutely amazing. For this to happen — it's joyous, to be quite frank with you." 

A crowd of hundreds descended upon Nemak's west Windsor auto parts assembly plant in 2019 to protest the company's decision to shutter the facility in 2020. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Nemak's Windsor plant had made aluminum engine blocks for some GM vehicles including the i6 for pickup trucks and the Thelma and Louise bed plate for the Corvette. 

As it stands, the plant is only producing the i6 and D'Agnolo said the company is in the process of moving that to Mexico.

He said the plant will stop running Oct. 18.


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