FCA workers call third shift extension 'good news' — but uncertainty still lingers

FCA workers call third shift extension 'good news' — but uncertainty still lingers

About 1,500 employees working in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Windsor Assembly Plant are breathing a sigh of relief, after the company announced it will once again extend the elimination of the third shift until March 2020.

Take Matthew Desjarlais, for example. He's worked at the FCA plant for approximately five years, and said it's "good news" that the third shift has been extended, because it gives the company and Unifor Local 444 more time to work things out.

"There's uncertainty, but after [the] last extension, everyone was happy. Everyone in the plant felt good about it. It was more positive than anything else," said Dejarlais

This marks the fourth time FCA has delayed the elimination of the third shift, which was originally set to be cut in September 2019.

The first extension, announced in June 2019, pushed elimination to Oct. 21. In August, FCA told CBC News the shift was extended to the end of the calendar year. Finally, in October, FCA said the third shift elimination had been extended "until further notice."

Alex Suda, who has worked at the FCA plant for about 15 months, said he takes "a lot of pride" in his job. He has a two-year-old son, and is expecting a baby girl in the next two weeks. Suda said a lot of older employees in the plant tend to give reassurance to the younger workers that "they have nothing to worry about" — but it tends to just increase anxiety.

"There's older guys going around with high seniority. They have nothing to worry about. And they're telling you to save up. 'There's some big stuff coming. Even if you do get kicked out or laid off, you have a chance for your callback in five years to get back in.' But that doesn't really help," said Suda.

Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press

Vanessa Abouhussein is approaching the two-year mark as an employee at the FCA plant. In the section of the plant where she works, Abouhussein said she was the one to break the news of the shift extension to her nearby coworkers.

"It was such a great feeling," she said, adding that the extension is great news for her "brothers and sisters" in the FCA plant.

Still, the extension has also prolonged the feeling of anxiousness among workers.

"Of course, we're going to be nervous for March, but all we really can do is just show up to work everyday, keep building the best van and save our money where we can," said Abouhussein. 

Other workers like Devin Shannon and Nick Dimitriou agree that it's nice to hear that 1,500 people will hold on to their jobs until March 2020, but added that concerns remain in the plant.

"There's still a lot of rumours going around, so anxiety and stress is still up there. But morale has gotten better since the first announcement of the closure of the shift, but we're getting there," said Shannon.

"People have mortgages, car payments, families, medical bills — all that to take care of. We just want the certainty of knowing that we have a job in the future."

"We would like to see it ... extended permanently. But everybody's got to keep their head up and prove to this company why that is important to be here. The important thing is you're in Canada and we're the epitome of quality when it comes to manufacturing," said Dimitriou, who has worked at the plant for about 25 years.

Third shift a bargaining tool for FCA?

The current climate has also been unsettling for feeder plants and parts suppliers.

Greg Layson, editor for Automotive News Canada, said he hasn't seen this kind of uncertainty in Windsor's auto sector for quite some time.

"It's usually an announcement that the shift is done on this date — and that happens," said Layson.

"When you look at GM leaving Windsor, there was always a definitive date and there was always an exit plan. This doesn't look like it has a definitive exit plan. So if the company doesn't have a definitive exit plan, how does someone on the shop floor have a definitive exit plan?"

But both Layson and James Stewart, secretary-treasurer with Unifor Local 444, believe FCA will use the third shift as nothing more than a bargaining chip during contract talks.

"No doubt about it ... Everything is about bargaining. Make no mistake," Stewart said. "So if we're able to keep the third shift until bargaining, there is no doubt that will be a bargaining chip that they try and use."

Stewart, however, added that he's hopeful the union will achieve its goal of ultimately saving the third shift.

"Our goal is to make gains for our members, make sure we come up with a collective agreement that suits the needs of our members and it's something they can ratify."

Tap on the player below to hear more from three workers at Windsor's FCA plant: