TORONTO — About 450 workers at Ford Motor Co.’s Oakville, Ont., assembly plant will be laid off by early 2020 after the automaker ends production of the Ford Flex there.
In an email to Automotive News Canada, Ford of Canada spokeswoman Lauren More said Oakville workers were set to be told of the decision on Monday morning.
The move comes as Ford “strengthens its focus on products in the heart of the fastest growing segments to meet shifting consumer demands,” More wrote. “Oakville Assembly will adjust production levels, resulting in approximately 450 layoffs in early 2020.”
More said Flex production would end the week of Nov. 25, while Lincoln MKT production has already stopped. Oakville also builds the higher-volume Ford Edge and Lincoln Nautilus crossovers.
This would be the second round of layoffs at the plant in less than a year. Ford in July said it would cut about 200 jobs at Oakville by September while also slowing production there as a way to align “production with consumer demand.”
Unifor, which represents about 4,600 workers at the plant, has expected the end of Flex production since it wrapped up 2016 collective bargaining with Ford, though this is the first time the automaker has confirmed an end-date for it.
“We haven’t been taking orders for either one, I want to say, probably since May or early June,” said Dave Thomas, president of Unifor Local 707, during an interview.
Unifor President Jerry Dias said the union is working to set up a meeting with Ford to “see what can be done” to get people back to work.
“Ultimately, it’s all about capacity,” he said. “We have excess capacity at the plant, so the question is, what are they going to do about it?”
Dias said Unifor is seeking clarity about Ford’s plans for Oakville. He said the union, coming out of 2016 negotiations with Ford, had expected an announcement “of some major investment” in the plant by now.
“I realize Ford is going to be quiet right now because they’re going to be in negotiations with the UAW,” he said. “But because they’re occupied right now in the U.S., that doesn’t mean that somehow we’re not going to hold their feet to the fire here in Canada.”
In an interview with Automotive News Canada on Oct. 22, Ford of Canada CEO Dean Stoneley said the automaker is committed to the plant, though he declined to discuss specifics about future product plans there.
“We see Oakville as a vital part of our footprint going forward,” Stoneley said.
Dias said Unifor is open to working with Ford on retirement incentives for the plant’s most senior workers as a way to save jobs.
“We have some senior people at the plant that we need to talk to Ford about ways of maybe trying to entice our senior members to retire while preserving the jobs for our most junior,” he said.
The writing has been on the wall for the Flex and MKT for quite a while. Ford had not announced plans for a redesigned Flex, even as it invests heavily in its light truck lineup. The new Lincoln Aviator, assembled in Chicago, replaced the MKT earlier this year, and recent MKT production had largely been for Ford’s fleet customers.
The Flex and MKT have eked out low sales relative to the rest of the Ford and Lincoln lineups. With 18,337 sales in the United States through September, the Flex is the Ford brand’s lowest selling light truck nameplate by a wide margin. When excluding the Aviator, which went on sale earlier this year, the same is true for the MKT in Lincoln’s lineup.
It’s a similar sales picture in Canada, where Ford sold 2,418 Flex crossovers through September, trailing all other Ford light trucks. The automaker sold just 86 MKT crossovers in Canada in that same period.
Through September, the Oakville plant has produced 19,956 Flex crossovers and 2,918 MKT crossovers, combining to account for about 12 per cent of the 191,663 vehicles assembled there, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Edge production accounted for the bulk of vehicle assembly, as the plant produced 126,055 of the crossovers in that timespan.
The end of production comes less than a year before the start of 2020 labour negotiations between Ford and Unifor. Securing investment and future product commitments at Oakville will likely be a top priority for the union, which will represent just four Detroit Three assembly plants in Canada following the end of vehicle production at General Motors’ Oshawa, Ont., factory later in 2019.