'I would love to come home,' Oakville Ford workers fear contract will block return to Windsor

'I would love to come home,' Oakville Ford workers fear contract will block return to Windsor

Nicole Turcotte and her family moved from Windsor to Oakville in 2012 to keep working for Ford. Now, despite last week's $600-million investment in the automaker's operations in Windsor, she worries she won't be able to return home.

After the Ford Motor Company announced a $1.2-billion investment for its Canadian operations, Unifor Local 200 president Chris Taylor said he was hopeful it could help bring those who headed up the 401 back to Windsor.

"I got pretty excited about it thinking that we'd be able to come back," said Turcotte. "But now that I know the way they're doing it, I don't think we'll be able to come back."

The Windsor woman said the previous contract for workers gave employees who had been laid off first crack at any new jobs, but those who moved to another plant could apply for a "compassionate transfer" back to the plant where they first started out.

Union says contract hasn't changed

Taylor denies that that the rules have changed — the only way workers would have the right to any job openings in Windsor was if they were indefinitely laid off in Oakville.

During 2016 bargaining, leadership from all plants agreed laid off members would be approached about new jobs first, followed by members who lost their recall rights and would come in at a new hire rate, before transfers could be considered.

Currently, there are about 280 employees on lay off, Taylor said, but did not have an estimate of how many people had lost their recall rights. The recent multi-million dollar investment should add about 400 jos at the Windsor Engine Plant.

"We had a clear agenda from our members here in Windsor. Oakville members had the same opportunity to speak with their union … when the bargaining committees got together this is the preference that was agreed upon by all locations," he explained.

For those who did decide to move to Oakville, the union leader said at the time the union was focused on securing work for its members.

"I understand how difficult it is to pick up and move up the road, but that was the option at that point," Taylor said. "If we hadn't gotten product in 2016 nothing would have changed and these people would have had no way to come back here as it was."

'I would love to go home'

Turcotte said Ford workers who uprooted their families for Ford should be given priority. She and her husband Paul, who also works for the company, want to return to Windsor with their eight-year-old daughter.

"It's where I grew up. My friends and family are all there. Relatives are all getting older and I want to spend time with them," she said.

The new jobs may be years off yet, according to Taylor. He added he "fully expects" that after jobs are offered to laid off workers and those who lost their recall rights, there will be transfers for some people in situations similar to Turcotte.

In the meantime there's not much he can do for workers who feel betrayed by their union.

"I can't help them with how they feel," he said. "It was negotiated, it was discussed, it was ratified." 

Turcotte knows Ford workers in Oakville who still return to Windsor each weekend — trying to live in two cities isn't easy.

"I'm very grateful to be able to transfer up here and keep my job … but I would love to go home," she said.