Ontario Premier Doug Ford vows to support Windsor autoworkers — and Stellantis — following news last last week that the company plans to cut a shift next year, a move that will cost hundreds of jobs.
"I just want to make sure that people on the lines know that I'll stand shoulder to shoulder with them and support them every way I can," Ford said Monday. "We're putting up a tremendous amount of money, so are the feds. Now, we have to talk to Stellantis."
Ford, who wants to see Stellantis twin its operations in Windsor, said there are plans for an investment "in the hundreds of millions" between the province and Ottawa. Ford indicated he intends to put pressure on the automaker.
"We need to get not one shift, not two shifts, we need three shifts going, plus we need a battery plant here," he said.
Ford was in Tecumseh to announce a $9.8-million contribution to the Windsor mega-hospital project.
News one of Windsor's biggest employers is eliminating a shift — translating to 1,800 job losses — has been reverberating across the region since the announcement was made on Friday.
Plant to cut 1,800 jobs
Citing "significant headwinds such as the persisting semiconductor shortage and the extended effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," the company formerly known as Fiat Chrysler said it would transition the Windsor Assembly Plant from two shifts to one in the spring.
About 1,800 employees will be laid off permanently, leaving about 2,600 at the minivan plant.
Joshua Lamont worked an assembly-line shift on Saturday following the announcement. He said there was an atmosphere of "doom and gloom" in the building.
"A lot of people with low morale and you know, the uncertainly of our future is kind of out of our control," Lamont, 24, said in an interview prior to the announcement from Ford.
WATCH | Ontario Premier Doug Ford reacts to Stellantis shift reduction plan:
He's hopeful the cut would be only temporary, but if the second shift is eliminated, he said, he would be among those out of work due to his level of seniority.
"I have about six years in here and I think you need about 20 to stay right now," he said. "There's even some people with 20 that might not be making that cut."
The news came as a surprise to Lamont, as well as to the union representing workers.
"[It was] absolute radio silence until you get the call at the last minute saying, 'Here's what we're announcing,'" said Unifor national president Jerry Dias, who vows to get answers from the automaker.
Last year, Dias celebrated the collective agreement the union reached with the company. It included a $1.5-billion investment in the Windsor Assembly Plant that would see the inclusion of electric vehicles along with the return of the third shift, which was cut in early 2020.
Union to meet with Stellantis
On Friday, Unifor Local 444, which represents workers at the plant, tweeted they would meet with the company in the coming days to explore "all options."
"The company reiterated their commitment to their bargained investment and the three-shift operation in the future," the tweet said.
The Windsor Assembly Plant has been shut down for a significant part of the year due to a global shortage of semi-conductors, which in turn affected employment at the local factories that feed the plant.
Windsor had the highest unemployment rate among major Canadian cities as of September, at 10.4 per cent.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said Saturday that Stellantis's decision "is a reminder that the economic recovery from this global pandemic remains a work in progress."
He vowed to continue pushing for federal and provincial support for the auto sector.
"In the weeks ahead, I will be ramping up my fight for the automotive sector in our region to ensure that when business attraction decisions are being made, senior leaders in Ottawa and Queen's Park recognize the vital importance of the automotive sector to the economic health of Windsor-Essex and all of southwestern Ontario," he said in a statement.