'Disappointing ruling': Grievance against Nemak closure dismissed by arbitrator

The Unifor grievance regarding the closure of the Nemak Windsor Aluminum Plant has been dismissed.

The decision was released on Friday and was written by arbitrator Norm Jesin, who decided the union had not established that Nemak violated the collective agreement.

Jesin's ruling comes after bargaining talks designed to avoid arbitration broke down in October. At the time, Local 200 president John D'Agnolo said bargaining was "at an impasse" and the company had said they were in "full compliance" of the collective agreement. 

Nemak announced in July that the plant would close in 2020, moving its production to Mexico, despite a previous deal between the company and the union that the plant would stay open until 2022.

The terms of the previous deal were predicated on Nemak being able to generate enough demand to warrant the continued production of three vehicle components — which the company was unable to do.

"The evidence established that without the contract, the plant was in a precarious position and may have closed much earlier," Jesin wrote. "Both parties took reasonable actions to sustain the operations. These efforts were ultimately unsuccessful."

In a statement provided to the media by Nemak, Jesin said he did not find "bad faith" from either party.

"Unfortunately, through no fault of any of the parties the contract did not deliver the amount of work expected," said Jesin. 

D'Agnolo called the arbitrator's ruling "disappointing."

"We went into an agreement. We signed an agreement saying they'd put a new program here in Windsor," said D'Agnolo. "At the end of the day, the arbitrator ruled in favour of the company. The workers now are sitting there devastated."

According to D'Agnolo, workers on shift were handed copies of the ruling around 12:30 p.m. on Friday, to make sure they were informed of the decision in full. 

"We knew that Nemak was going to put a notice out, so we had to get it to the people in the plant before they did that," said D'Agnolo. 

Nemak says it has committed to abide by the arbitration decision and will continue operations as usual for the time being, with a plant closure date to be announced soon.

Dale Molnar/CBC

D'Agnolo said the fight isn't over — the union will meet Monday to decide what happens next and if they will challenge the ruling. 

Tim Little, vice president of Unifor Local 200, said he was "dumbfounded" by Jesin's decision. 

He said that the union hoped that Jesin "would see the merit in our collective agreement of what the company signed up to, but he didn't."

"We know the reasons why [Nemak is] leaving, but the effort was never made to make the plant a viable plant," said Little. 

Roughly 270 people are currently employed at the facility.