After staging a protest Monday at a Nemak of Canada parts plant in Windsor, Ont., unionized workers there turned away management Tuesday, stood their ground and vowed to stay off the job until the company reverses its decision to close the facility.
Unifor members erected tents and barricades at the entrance to the factory and replaced the Mexican flag with a union flag in protest.
“Nemak is out of business until further notice,” Unifor National President Jerry Dias said as a group of placard-waving protesters gathered outside the plant. “We will be here until we have a solution.”
While Alfa, the Mexico-based parent company of the parts supplier, has said it was closing the facility because it was too small and inefficient, Dias said the closure was part of a plan to shift production south, where wages are a fraction of those in Canada.
The average salary of a Mexican who works in a manufacturing plant with a maximum of 700 employees is barely US$3.73 per hour, according to data from the Industría Nacional de Autopartes of Mexico, which translates to the National Auto Parts Industry.
Alfa General Director Alfaro Frenandez also cited falling demand in China as a reason to close the Windsor plant.
"Nemak is disappointed that Unifor decided to organize an illegal stoppage to our operations, and will pursue an application with the Ontario Labor Relations Board to cease Unifor’s blockade," the company said in a statement Tuesday. "Since the announcement of the plant closure on July 16, the Company’s leadership has been in constant contact with the union officials, actively working to create a transition plan for employees.
"Nemak is in favor of re-establishing a constructive dialog with its employees and their representatives."
Unifor Local 200 President John D’Agnolo said his 200 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.
The union said it was within its rights to take strike action because the company’s planned closure, announced in July, violated the terms of its collective agreement.
Unifor officials met with Nemak CEO Armando Tamez Martinez last week in Monterey but talks were unproductive said Dias.
“Nemak cannot get away with betraying its workers or Canadians simply because they are motivated by corporate greed,” said Dias. “They can’t take millions in government handouts one day and then desert their loyal workforce and the community of Windsor the next.”
Since 2015, Nemak received millions of dollars from several government sources including a $1.5 million grant from the province of Ontario and $3 million in federal funds, the union said.
“This plant has made nothing but profits, and closing it is an avoidable, short-sighted decision that will take a devastating toll on the workers, their families, and the community,” said Dias.
D’Agnolo said Nemak signed an agreement in 2016 to keep the plant open until at least 2022 after workers agreed to a four-year wage freeze.
“We expect nothing less than for them to keep their word,” D’Agnolo said.
The plant, originally opened in 1996 under the Ford Motor Company until Nemak took over operations in 2010, produces engine blocks and bedplates.