Windsor judge finds Unifor leaders in contempt for ongoing Nemak strike

A Windsor judge found four Unifor leaders in contempt Friday for strikes that have taken place outside Nemak's west Windsor auto parts assembly plant since Labour Day.

Delivering his decision at the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor, Justice Terrance Patterson determined Unifor national president Jerry Dias, Local 200 president John D'Agnolo, Local 200 plant chair Mike Jobin and Local 200 vice president Tim Little were in contempt for failing to adhere to a Sept. 4 Ontario Labour Relations Board decision ordering them to cease their "unlawful strike" at Nemak. 

Watch Unifor Local 200 president John D'Agnolo address reporters:

Patterson has already fined Unifor $75,000 for the strike and an additional $10,000 per day will be fined for non-compliance beyond Saturday at midnight.     

Additionally, Dias, D'Agnolo, Little and Jobin face a $1,000 daily fine for every 24 hours that they fail to comply with Patterson's order. 

Dias said he was "disappointed" with Patterson's decision. Unifor leaders will meet Saturday to determine their next steps. 

"I'm disappointed that we would have a Canadian judge siding with the corporation to move our jobs to Mexico," he said. "You would think that the judge would take a look at the collective agreement and see quite unequivocally that Nemak is violating the terms of the commitment they made to keep the jobs in Windsor."

When asked about the possibility that Unifor might ignore Patterson's latest order, Dias reiterated that leaders "will discuss that tomorrow."

Speaking outside the courthouse Friday, D'Agnolo told reporters the court's latest decision was "frustrating."

Dale Molnar/CBC

"Our goal is to keep these workers working, that's what this is all about," he said. "It breaks my heart."

D'Agnolo said he wouldn't discuss potentially suing Nemak for breaching a previously drawn contract involving a three-year wage freeze to extend work at the facility until 2023.

"This is about people that have lost their jobs and I'm trying to get the jobs to stay in Canada," he said. "That's what this is about."

Amy Dodge/CBC

Nemak's west Windsor plant manager Brad Boutros apologized to employees for the facility's upcoming closure. 

"We're a tier one automotive supplier, we're [always] three to five years from losing our jobs," he said. "This is a last resort."

Boutros said that, in the event that Unifor fails to comply with Patterson's order, court would be the only option.

Watch Brad Boutros address reporters:

Robert Konrad, a Nemak employee of approximately five years currently on strike outside the company's plant, said he didn't agree with the judge's Friday decision, adding "it doesn't look good for us."

"I'm for the strike, but money's going to wear out soon," he said. "We should get what we deserve to get paid, but I don't think we'll get it."

Watch Robert Konrad outside Nemak's west Windsor plant:

A brief history of the ongoing strike

Unifor and Nemak employees began their strike roughly 11 days ago, as a result of Nemak's decision to shutter the west Windsor facility in 2020 due to the "early phase-out of an export program with a customer in China."

Unifor leaders took to picket lines to force Nemak to adhere to a previously drawn agreement

Prior to his Friday contempt decision, Patterson also upheld the OLRB's order on Sept. 5, demanding that Unifor leaders cease the strike. 

Amy Dodge/CBC

Despite the OLRB's and Patterson's orders, Unifor leaders continued holding the strike, even staging a rally Thursday attended by several hundred people.

Patterson's contempt ruling comes three days after he deferred contempt hearings on Tuesday in order to provide Unifor and Nemak with an opportunity to resolve the dispute without court intervention. 

Nemak lawyer David Sundin previously said Unifor should pay $25,000 for each day the strike continues, while Unifor leaders should be fined $2,000 for each day the strike continues. 

Both parties previously confirmed they were continuing discussions, with Nemak saying the company "remains open to continue discussions to find a mutually agreeable compromise."

I'm disappointed that we would have a Canadian judge siding with the corporation to move our jobs to Mexico. - Jerry Dias, Unifor national president

Nemak's Brad Boutros said Thursday that dialogue between his company and Unifor "has been open."

"However, in our conversation, we determined at this point that their position is inflexible to say the least," he said. 

"We're not talking about profitability here, we're talking about actual operations," he said. "Our position is we would be right around 10 per cent utilization in the plant."