Judge adjourns contempt hearings to give Unifor, Nemak a chance to resolve dispute

Ontario Superior Court Justice Terrance Patterson adjourned a Tuesday contempt hearing between Unifor and Nemak until Friday at 2 p.m. to give both parties a chance to resolve the continued pickets outside Nemak's west Windsor auto parts assembly plant.

Nemak lawyer David Sundin wanted to reconvene Thursday, while Unifor lawyer Anthony Dale suggested waiting until next Monday, with Patterson ultimately settling on a date later this week.

The contempt hearings come in the wake of Unifor's continued presence outside Nemak's plant, despite an Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) decision and a previous ruling from Patterson ordering Unifor leaders to cease their strike. 

Sundin argued the OLRB's original order is being "blatantly ignored," while Dale said he only had 11 minutes notice to review the contempt order as he was in Toronto at the time it was issued.

Sundin also wanted Unifor found in contempt of previous rulings, with a fine of $25,000-per-day as well as a fine of $2,000-per-day for Unifor leaders.

In response to suggestions for fines, Patterson said he didn't think they would help resolve the situation. 

Instead, Patterson said he would rather both parties attempt to work out their concerns. 

Nonetheless, Patterson upheld his previous decision, as well as the OLRB's original order. 

Following Tuesday's contempt hearing, Unifor Local 200 president John D'Agnolo told reporters the union is "doing our best [to] have discussions."

"The judge has made it clear that he'd like for us to talk and I'm looking forward to talking with the company," D'Agnolo said. "We need to sit down and get this hashed out as soon as possible, so we can start working and produce vehicles."

D'Agnolo said he wouldn't talk about the possibility of a $2,000-per-day fine levied against union leaders, saying he hopes to arrive a resolution "so we don't have to deal with those fines."

"As the judge says, eventually we have to deal with contempt and at that time, he has to deal with it," said D'Agnolo. "Right now, I'm focused on getting the people back to work. That's all they want, they want to get back to work."

Unifor's picket outside Nemak began on Labour Day, with employees ceasing work to protest Nemak's decision to close the plant by mid-2020.

When the OLRB issued its decision a few days later, Unifor national president Jerry Dias said employees wouldn't return to work until a settlement had been reached with Nemak.

"In order to move our jobs to Mexico, [Nemak is] either going to sue us or they're going to throw me in jail," Dias said last Wednesday. 

Despite orders, picketers have remained outside Nemak since Labour Day.

Windsor police, Nemak representatives and Unifor officials spent last Friday morning speaking in private, in an attempt to decide how to deal with the workers blocking the entrance to the assembly plant.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed yesterday that she had met with union officials about the strike. 

She also confirmed that the federal government is contact with Unifor's Dias. 

"And I have spoken several times today with my own officials to look into what it is that we can do," she said. "Let me just say to people who work at Nemak, that we understand the seriousness of this situation and we're working very intensively with local labour leaders."