Last week when Statistics Canada announced its March unemployment numbers and many were surprised when Windsor’s rate jumped to 11.1%, the highest in the country. After a few panicked seconds, people remembered that Windsor Assembly Plant was shutdown until May for retooling and concluded that the statistical fluctuation had to do with the laid off workers from Chrysler and its suppliers. This hunch was quickly confirmed by Statistics Canada.
With that thought in mind, we can be assured that by the time the June or July unemployment numbers come out Windsor’s rates would settle back down to lower levels. What this situation has shown is the precariousness of Windsor’s employment situation, how our city is one big loss away from tumbling back into the abyss. Unfortunately for Windsor that 11.1% unemployment could become a new reality in 2017.
Currently, the Windsor Ford Engine Plant only has production scheduled to continue until 2017. This week Ford will announced a new $2.5 billion investment in Mexico, most importantly $1.3 billion of that investment is to expand the Chihuahua plant for 2 new diesel engines. Although this appears to be the same production Windsor lost out on last October, if replacement production isn’t found and Ford does continue with its plans to end its existing production, over 1800 jobs will be at risk and 11.1% unemployment would become a new normal.
I don’t know if much can be done to avoid this fate, but an honest discussion needs to occur and it needs to happen now. Too many people’s livelihoods in our community are dependent on the automotive industry for us to ignore this possibility. Auto analysts Desrosier said this week has said that Canada could very well end up like Australia by 2040, with no OEM production at all. Yet most Windsorites seem willing to blissfully ignore the troubling clouds on the horizon, embolden by the sense of security provided by the WAP retooling.
Even though this line is brand new and state of the art, people aren’t discussion that it is also more automated than any assembly line before it. Personal friends with connections to Chrysler have said that the new line will need much less manpower to operate and once the bugs are worked out they expect buyouts and early retirement offers to come. In many cases new hires may not being needed to replace those who leave. Windsor’s prospects face additional uncertainty just as unions prepare to negotiate new contracts in the US with the big three automakers and Canadian contract negotiations loom in 2016. If Canadian autoworkers aren’t willing to undercut their American counter-parts it could be the death nail for certain plants in Canada, including those in Windsor.
Everyone has seemingly shrugged off the 11.1% unemployment as an adoration that will melt away in the summer sun as auto plants hum back into life but it could just as easily be the herald of worse things to come.