Canadian News

Windsor auto factories come back as industry looks to recoup losses

In the past week since workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford returned to work at factories in Windsor, Ontario, the city's auto manufacturers are gradually making their way back to full production.

Collin Jones The Post Millennial
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In the past week since workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford returned to work at factories in Windsor, Ontario, as the city's auto manufacturers are gradually making their way back to full production.

Though COVID-19 is the primary concern at these workplaces, some of the employees seem content with the amount of protection the company has provided, according to CBC News.

"A lot of things are pretty similar except there is just safety measures everywhere now. In my department there's a lot of barriers put up between jobs," said Vanessa Abouhussein, a line worker in the paint shop at FCA's Windsor Assembly Plant.

"I feel pretty good. I think FCA did a good job [negotiating] with our union without us really being there."

Abouhussein has worked at the factory for two-and-a-half years. She said that the company has switched jobs around in order to accommodate for barriers, but that they are still "working out the kinks."

"Everyone is being pretty cooperative from a management perspective to an employee perspective," she said.

Before the auto worker are permitted to enter the gates, they are asked a series of questions, screened, and given personal protective equipment.

Designated areas have set up and arrows are on the floor which encourage physical distancing at the Windsor Assembly Plant. Plastic barriers are put up to divide people who have to work close together on the assembly line.

The factory builds Chrysler and Dodge minivans, and has had a gradual restart process with one shift last week, two this week, and three next week.

The primary concern are the hundreds of people who may not be able to physically distance themselves during shift change.

But at Ford's Windsor Engine plant, some workers have said the return to work has been smooth. Staggered shifts allow for people to keep their distance, and one employee has even said she feels safer at work compared to the grocery store.

"They're providing us with everything we need to stay safe. I personally feel they've done a good job," said Yvon Dionne, a maintenance electrician at the Ford Canada engine plant. He has worked for the company for 27 years.

"I feel very safe. We have everything given to us to keep us safe. They have sanitizing stations throughout the building, they put up additional barriers in the rest areas to keep people away."

Similar to FCA, Dionne said Ford has their own screening system, tape on the floors, and other measures to ensure social distancing. Separate entrances are available for people entering and exiting the facility during a shift change.

Dionne was reassured that employees seem to be following the new rules, and getting along overall.

"If somebody gets a bit close, everybody seems to realize you need to back up a little bit," he said. "People are honestly they're not too happy with the situation, but everybody understands that this is what we need to do to return to work."

There are some amenities such as showers and the cafeteria that are still off-limits, said Dionne, but management is working out solutions for both of these.

"I think that Ford is doing a good job keeping everybody safe," he said.

However, car lots in the area are worried that they will not have enough vehicles to sell.

Though sales plummeted due to COVID-19 in recent months, local car sellers are concerned that they won't have enough cars to sell as the demand begins to ramp back up.

"My biggest fear—and I think everybody will say the same thing—is product. We haven't had a shipment in three months now," said Greg Gill, director of sales for the Rafih Auto Group.

"I have lots of orders but I need them to get back to work and start building or we're going to have some problems."

Sales were down in March by 45 percent and dropped lower to 75 percent through the month of April, said Rick McKinney, senior sales consultant at Motor City Chrysler in Windsor.

"This is worse now [than the 2008 recession]. I would double this numbers-wise. We just don't see those people. At least in 2008 there were people walking through the door but not now," he said.

One of McKinney's hottest products are not looking available, which may cause problems when customers begin seeking it out.

"The Grand Caravan was supposed to come back in May, but could be another three months."

An FCA Canada spokesperson said the company was "pleased" with last week's restart, according to an email.

"Everyone followed the new protocols and our plants were fully staffed to start production. We expected nothing less from FCA's incredible employees. We are very confident that we have all the right protection measures in place to keep them all safe."

The company was sure to thank its employees who had helped set up the factories for the restart.

Abouhussein will be one of the 1,500 workers who will be out of a job come July when the third shift is eliminated at Windsor Assembly Plant. This decision was made before the March shutdown of the factory and before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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