Judge orders Unifor members back to work at Windsor Nemak plant; union refuses

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A Superior Court judge has ordered protesting Unifor members outside a Nemak parts plant in Windsor, Ont., to deconstruct barricades, end their standoff and immediately head back to work, but the union refuses to comply.

“I can tell you with some degree of certainty we’ll still be here in the morning,” Unifor spokesman Dave Molenhuis said Thursday night. “There’s been no change. We’re holding fast.”

And they did. Members remained on the picket line and vehicles blocked the main entrance to the plant.

Justice Terry Patterson on Thursday ruled in favour of Nemak, which had asked for an injunction to put an end to the union’s ongoing demonstration, now in its fifth day.

Police did show up Friday to escort some management into the building to finalize payroll from the week before so members could get paid. But beyond that, the plant has been silent.

Earlier this week, Unifor members erected barricades and turned management away at the gate, effectively stopping production. 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 percent of its production capacity next year.

Workers currently build aluminum engine blocks for General Motors, including Cadillac production in China. Workers also build the I-6 engine block for the Chevrolet Silverado midsize pickup assembled in Flint, Mich., and bedplates for the Chevrolet Corvette. 

The Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled on Wednesday that the strike was illegal and Nemak called on its employees to begin working at 11 p.m. That didn’t happen as hundreds gathered in an act of defiance, blocking all three gates to the factory.

Molenhuis said the union isn’t budging and expects “the next step is getting an actual court order.”

At that time, police can intervene. Until then, protesters refuse to budge.

Several union locals in Windsor have rallied around Unifor Local 200, which represents the roughly 270 Nemak employees. Local 444, which represents workers at FCA’s Windsor Assembly Plant and Casino Windsor, has been the most vocal.

“We are going to hold that line until hell freezes over…then we are going to hold it with ice skates on!” Local 444 President David Cassidy said on a Facebook post Thursday.

While Alfa, the Mexico-based parent company of Nemak, has said it was closing the facility because it was too small and inefficient, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said the closure was part of a plan to shift production to Mexico, 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 $3.73 per hour, according to data from the Industría Nacional de Autopartes of Mexico, which translates to the National Auto Parts Industry.

“We can’t compete with Mexico,” Unifor Local 200 President John D’Agnolo said.

So, Unifor is now essentially trying to stop Nemak from moving tooling and machinery to Mexico so workers there can’t do the same job, D’Agolo said Wednesday night on the picket line.

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