EI in danger for 300 Syncreon workers if feds don't extend COVID-era rules, union says

·3 min read
Linda Poho is among the members of Unifor Local 195 that want Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough to do more to help Syncreon workers in Windsor to stay afloat financially. (TJ Dhir/CBC - image credit)
Linda Poho is among the members of Unifor Local 195 that want Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough to do more to help Syncreon workers in Windsor to stay afloat financially. (TJ Dhir/CBC - image credit)

Windsor city council will try to push the federal government to help about 300 Syncreon workers who'll be out of work next month but may not get their full employment insurance (EI) entitlement.

Council voted unanimously Tuesday to press Ottawa to extend temporary COVID-era EI changes that are set to expire on Sept. 24. Without an extension, 297 local Syncreon workers would see severance deducted from their EI benefits, and some might not qualify for EI at all.

The situation is dire, Linda Poho, a Unifor Local 195 plant committee representative, told councillors. The average age of a plant worker is 50, and the average length of service is 14 years. Now some are facing financial ruin, and they need the help of both severance and their full EI entitlement as they try to find new jobs.

"They just don't know where they're going and what's going to happen," said Poho.

"We keep reaching out and we're not getting anywhere."

Rob Kennedy, second vice-president of Local 195, said it's "extremely important" that the rules are extended.

"We need this change," he said. "We need it badly."

The government implemented temporary COVID-era EI measures that would shorten the number of hours required to qualify for EI. This helped Syncreon workers, who largely because of parts and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic, have been laid off 66 weeks in the last two and a half years, the union leaders say.

Those measures also prevented severance from being deducted from EI payments.

Now 297 Syncreon workers will be out of work as of Oct. 30. Not extending the changes around EI is setting up Syncreon employees and their families for failure at a time when they most need the help, said Mike Bonovic, plant chair with Local 195.

This motion is all about calling on the federal government to provide some sensibility and review what's going on here, so 300 families in our community are not disadvantaged - Drew Dilkens, mayor of Windsor 

Robert Djordjevic, one of the impacted workers, sent an emotional email to council. He said in addition to the COVID impacts, he missed work last year to care for his ailing mother, and his sister who died of lung cancer.

"I was looking forward to getting my severance to catch up on bills because of the constant struggles due to these layoffs," he said. "And I could finally afford a grave stone for my sister's grave."

"Yes, COVID kicked our butts. But in Windsor we always get back up. But sometimes we need some help to get back on our feet."

CBC News is pursuing comment from the federal government.

Mayor Drew Dilkens introduced the motion Tuesday, and has already written a letter to the federal minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion.

"This motion is all about calling on the federal government to provide some sensibility and review what's going on here," he said. "So 300 families in our community are not disadvantaged."

What council approved

WHEREAS modifications to Canada's Employment Insurance Benefit Regime were made by the Federal Government during the course of the COVID-19 global pandemic specifically designed to support workers impacted by supply chain disruptions and pandemic-related work stoppages; and,

WHEREAS the closure of Syncreon Automotive is directly linked to the latent effects of the global pandemic on the automotive sector, including microchip shortage and persistent supply chain challenges; and further,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Windsor City Council encourages the Government of Canada to allow Syncreon Automotive employees access to their full employment insurance entitlements, and not penalize terminated employees for receiving severance.