Engines Ready: Unifor could restart production in early May

Toronto, Ontario ⁠— Unifor president Jerry Dias is “cautiously optimistic” that Canadian auto production plants will reopen in early May.

“We will give the green light at the end of the day if our local union leadership feels comfortable with that,” said Dias, whose union represents nearly 15,000 hourly workers at Canadian Ford, General Motors and FCA plants. “As of now, we haven’t heard this big outcry saying, ‘Don’t do it, it’s too early.’”

Much of the industry is aiming for an early May restart. FCA, which has two assembly plants in Ontario, wants to restart its U.S. and Canadian factories on May 4. FCA reported on April 16 that the company planned to re-open the Brampton, Ont., plant on May 4, followed by its Windsor, Ont., plant on May 18. 

Rory Gamble, president of the United Auto Workers in the U.S., however, said it would be “too risky” to restart plants in early May. 

“At this point in time, the UAW does not believe the scientific data is conclusive that it is safe to have our members back in the workplace,” Gamble said in a statement. “We have not done enough testing to really understand the threat our members face. We want to make sure the scientific data is supportive and every possible health protocols and enhanced protections are in place before UAW members walk into the workplace.”

Dias said he understands why the UAW would oppose the early May production start-up because the United States has been hit harder by the pandemic than Canada has. The U.S. has more than 861,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 46,300 deaths⁠⁠—the highest reported numbers globally. That compares with more than 42,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths in Canada, according to Health Canada. 

“The impact that we have had has been significant, but we haven’t had the types of deaths and realities that they’ve had to deal with, especially in Michigan,” said Dias. “We dodged a major bullet here, for sure,” he said. “The UAW has had a lot more confirmed cases⁠—even deaths⁠. We haven’t had the deaths or anywhere near the numbers.”

Dias said that, as of now, the Canadian union is proceeding with proposed timelines, but “that could change at any minute.”

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