Unifor Local 444 leaders in Windsor erected a blockade in front of the Walker Road and Vimy Avenue entrance to the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Assembly Plant on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 5. The blockade is a response to FCA Canada’s recently announced plan to lay off 60 Unifor 444 workers employed by a contractor, Auto Warehousing Corporation (AWC), and replace them with lower wage workers from another contractor, Motipark. Local 444 President Dave Cassidy stated in an interview with the Windsor Star that the new workers will earn about $17/hour, whereas the previous workers earned “around $20-$24/hour depending on the job.” In regards to the blockade, Cassidy appeared firm: “Nobody in, nobody out until we get this thing resolved. We’ll be here 24 hours around the clock.” In the meanwhile, the union is preparing to file a grievance with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) demanding successor rights for the affected workers in order to help resolve the dispute.
The announcement of the blockade caused a ferment on social media among Unifor 444 members and the local Windsor community. On the local’s Facebook page, a post about the action elicited more than 300 likes and 100-plus comments in just a few hours, with the overwhelming response consisting of positive declarations of solidarity, raised fist emojis, and requests for members to come out and physically bolster the blockade. The response illustrates (a) that rank-and-file workers are naturally attracted to and enthused by militant job actions such as these, and (b) that when their elected leaders stick their necks out and lead by example, it makes it much easier for members to follow without fear of repercussion.
On the same Facebook thread, Cassidy reports that talks had been underway between the new contractor and Local 444 in December. When the union made it clear, however, that the 60 workers had succession rights under the OLRB and that the existing collective agreement would remain in force, Motipark walked away from the table. The United Steelworkers, who represent existing Motipark employees, reportedly refused an offer to represent the 60 new workers that Motipark wanted to hire in their place subsequently. This is an impressive show of solidarity, as the Steelworkers leaders must clearly have recognized that a narrow gain of 60 new members for them would represent a corresponding loss of 60 for their brothers and sisters in Unifor, and hence a zero-sum game. Moreover, the lower wages achieved in the process would represent a loss for the entire labour movement combined.
Unfortunately, since then, the Teamsters have apparently agreed to represent these new workers over the holidays, and are considering filing a grievance of their own with the OLRB to assert their right to representation. By openly collaborating with the Motipark bosses to undermine the struggle of the Unifor FCA workers for their own minimal gain, these Teamsters leaders are committing an act of sabotage akin to raiding, and should be roundly condemned for doing so. The Teamsters must follow the example of the Steelworkers and refuse to represent these workers, period!
The blockade of the Windsor FCA plant is quite a way to kick off the new year. In a time when most people are worrying about when they will receive their COVID-19 vaccine injection, this struggle represents a fresh injection of militancy into the labour movement, which is just as badly needed. The workers here are likely feeling confident after their new collective agreement signed with FCA in October included a tentative commitment to reopen the third shift, along with wage and benefit increases. The current fight proves once again, however, that the bosses cannot be trusted with anything, and that any real gains will only come about as a result of determined struggle.
Labour Fightback applauds the actions of Unifor 444 in setting up the blockade, and encourages the union to keep it going until the jobs are restored. To give it the best chance of success, the rank and file and the local labour movement must also be mobilized to bolster the lines. As the union said in its latest update, “One day longer, one day stronger!”