Nemak couldn’t resume parts production at its Windsor, Ont., plant Wednesday night even though the Ontario Labour Relations Board earlier in the day ruled in favour of the Mexican company, saying a union blockade at the plant’s front gate was against the law.
According to Nemak and Unifor, the Ontario Labour Relations Board told union members to cease and desist in calling an “illegal” strike at the plant, which is owned by Mexico-based Alfa.
“The application was submitted the afternoon of Tuesday, September 3, proceeding to an afternoon hearing on Wednesday, September 4. The Labour Relations board told Unifor leaders and employees to stop and give up calling, authorizing, or threatening to call an illegal strike,” the company said in Spanish in a news release. "Nemak plans to resume the operation of the plant according to schedule, September 4 at 11:00 p.m. Windsor time, Canada."
Unifor Local 200 President John D’Agnolo said workers were told to begin work at 11 p.m. but instead those members — and more from other Unifor chapters — stood in defiance and continued their protest. Cars lined the street and members blocked all three gates leading into the factory. The protest was stocked with cords of firewood, fire barrels, food, high-powered lighting and a sound system blasting classic rock.
D’Agnolo told reporters that he believes management drove by, saw what was happening and didn’t even try to enter the factory and start production.
PROTEST BEGAN LABOUR DAY
Earlier this week Unifor members held protests, erected barricades and turned management away at the gate, effectively stopping production for at least two days. The protest is in response to Nemak's decision to close the plant in Windsor in mid-2020.
Nemak said in July that the closure is necessary due to the early end of an export program for a customer in China, which will lead the plant to use less than 10 per cent of its installed capacity next year.
D’Agnolo said his 200 or so members currently build aluminum engine blocks for General Motors, including Cadillac production in China. The union said Monday that workers also build the I-6 engine block for the Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup assembled in Flint, Mich. D’Agnolo said the plant also produces bedplates for the Chevrolet Corvette.
Nemak originally said the decision came on the back of “the expected withdrawal from an export program by a client in China,” which would lead the plant to use less than 10 per cent of its installed capacity by 2020.
D’Agnolo said Monday that the I-6 and Corvette work will be shifted to Mexico.
Unifor said Wednesday it has no intention of allowing work to begin again in Windsor and pledged to continues its blockage.
“We’re going to continue protesting it, regardless of the order, because it’s our workers’ livelihoods on the line,” D’Agnolo said. “The OLRB made the wrong decision. I can’t stand for our jobs going to Mexico. I cannot see the families at Nemak lose their livelihoods.”
The union said it was within its rights to take strike action because the company’s planned closure violates the terms of its collective agreement.
Unifor officials met with Nemak CEO Armando Tamez Martinez last week in Monterey but talks were unproductive said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.
“Nemak has an existing collective agreement with the workers, and Unifor members are standing strong to demand that the company live up to the terms of that agreement and rescind the closure of the plant,” Dias said Wednesday.
Unifor locals across Windsor have rallied in support the Nemak employees and plan to face off against management Wednesday night when production is set to resume.
“If any of my friends can be out there at a quarter after 10 at the Nemak plant, we’d really appreciate it. We have some leadership going. We want to make sure they’re not getting in there and running production,” Unifor Local 444 President David Cassidy said in a Facebook video post.
UNION FEELS 'BETRAYED'
The union says it has been ”betrayed," arguing that Nemak received loans and grants from various levals of government on the condition that the plant remained open until at least 2022.
According to Unifor, Nemak received a grant of $1.5 million from Ontario and $3 million in federal funds.
The federal government previously confirmed to Automotive News Canada that Nemak received a $3 million investment under the Automotive Supplier Innovation Program (ASIP), a program the current Liberal government inherited from former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The program has since been integrated into the Strategic Innovation Fund.
“While the terms of the contribution agreement are commercially confidential, Nemak was deemed to have satisfied the terms of the program,”Department of Innovation, Science & Economic Development spokeswoman Dani Keenan told Automotive News Canada in a statement.
Meanwhile, the City of Windsor says Nemak never accepted one cent of the $1.3 million it originally requested from the city, despite being approved to do so.
“The city set the money aside but Nemak never accessed any of it so there’s nothing for them to give back,” City of Windsor spokesman Jason Moore told Automotive News Canada in an email.