Fiat Chrysler's Windsor Minivan Plant to Cut Third Shift, Shed 1,500 Jobs As Canada's Auto Sector Grows Increasingly Shaky

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Union officials in Windsor, Ontario were blindsided Thursday afternoon by Fiat Chrysler’s announcement of job cuts at the company’s minivan plant. The automaker plans to cut a third shift at the plant, home to the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Pacifica, putting 1,500 out of work.

It will be the first time the plant has operated on two shifts since the early 1990s. According to properly pissed Unifor officials, lackluster Pacifica sales may be to blame for the move.

In a message sent to the Windsor Star, FCA Canada communications head LouAnn Gosselin wrote, “In order to better align production with global demand at its Windsor Assembly Plant, FCA notified Unifor today that it intends to return the plant to a traditional two-shift operation, beginning Sept. 30, 2019.”

FCA will offer retirement packages, she said, and would make “every effort to place indefinitely laid off hourly employees in open full-time positions as they become available based on seniority.”

A visibly rattled Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy staged a news conference late Thursday, confirming that 1,500 workers will “potentially” leave the plant, plus an unknown number at feeder plants. Windsor Assembly currently employs 6,100 workers. As part of its collective agreement, FCA has to give Unifor six months notice of any impending layoffs.

The news came as a shock.

“It’s devastating for everybody,” Cassidy said, adding that he had no indication that the news was coming down the pipe. Windsor Assembly has seen frequent bouts of idling in recent months, part of FCA’s efforts to whittle down inventory. Earlier this week, Cassidy himself claimed that a planned July shutdown would go longer than expected in order to add an all-wheel drive version of the Pacifica to the plant’s product mix. The automaker has yet to confirm such an addition.

“This is not a General Motors/Oshawa issue, this is a sales and a business decision,” Cassidy said. “I can tell you we are going to keep pressure on FCA … to fully utilize our facility.”

Cassidy didn’t have kind words for Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkins. The official claims he’s tried to form a dialogue with the mayor, a champion of economic diversification, regarding the importance of Windsor Assembly to the city’s economic health.

“Fuck Drew,” Cassidy said. “Seriously. Drew Dilkens, I have reached out to Drew Dilkens so many times, I have tried to bridge a gap there, the election is over, Drew Dilkens can’t take his finger off — there are two crown jewels in this city right tied to this local, Windsor Assembly Plant and Casino Windsor. Drew Dilkens needs to pay attention to this.”

While U.S. Pacifica sales were essentially flat last year, the first two months of 2019 saw a 24 percent decline. The minivan declined slightly in Canada last year, with the Caravan dropping considerably. In the U.S., however, Caravan sales rose 21 percent in 2018, only to drop 27 percent over the first two months of 2019.

It seems that the AWD Pacifica, if it indeed becomes a reality, isn’t expected to move the overall Pacifica needle all that much. There’s also the lingering question of just how long the aging Caravan can last. While FCA has announced the 2020 debut of the minivan-type Chrysler Portal, the model, rumored to borrow the Pacifica platform, is still shrouded in mystery.

Speaking in January, FCA Canada CEO Reid Bigland said, “Our challenge that both the Windsor and Brampton assembly plants have is the passenger car segments continue to be under a tremendous amount of pressure, and the minivan segment is under a lot of pressure, as well.”

He added, “But in spite of that, we’ve been able to keep those plants running at a pretty good clip. And, all going well, we’ll continue to do so in the future.”

In the wake of FCA’s announcement, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he planned to meet with Bigland and Unifor President Jerry Dias “to urge them to work with us to protect these jobs.”

“I want the employees at the Windsor Assembly Plant to know that my government stands with your and your families,” Ford said in a statement, “We will fight tooth and nail to protect the jobs of the auto workers in Windsor.”

[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • HotPotato HotPotato on Mar 30, 2019

    FCA's problem is that their dealers and reliability are garbage. A couple I know was in the market for a top of the line minivan: cost no object, ready to pay cash. They loved the Pacifica Hybrid. And why wouldn't you? It was quieter, more comfortable, better equipped and trimmed, and better looking than the competition, and like all minivans these days plenty powerful. And it's a plug-in hybrid, meaning it's a squeaky-clean electric car on your daily errands and a range-anxiety-free conventional hybrid on road trips. An executive jet for the road that lets you feel virtuous and green...What's not to love? Start with the dealer. The sleazy sales manager killed an almost certain sale with his bad attitude. In the extra time that resulted, the customer visited Pacifica Hybrid forums and found vehicles dead due to faulty diodes, vehicles CATCHING FIRE not despite but BECAUSE OF a recall for another issue, etc. I suppose this wasn't totally surprising: as a Fiat 500e owner I had first-hand knowledge of FCA's failure to properly complete the job of software development, and failure to properly vet recall fixes before issuing them. But that car was the hated stepchild of the company, and the Pacifica was its crown jewel. You'd think they'd care enough to get it right. After driving all the minivans currently available (except the Grand Caravan), they ended up buying the Honda Odyssey. Of them all, it had the worst looks, the worst seat comfort, the worst road noise, and the worst value. But it was a Honda, and the buyer's previous Honda was a paragon of epic reliability. (And the dealer wasn't a sleazebag.) So...

  • La834 La834 on Mar 31, 2019

    It's such sad situation; FCA not only has the best vehicle in its class with the Pacifica, but also something that many people would choose over fast-selling luxury crossovers if they only knew about it. The AWD model, if it's a reality, would help here tremendously. I blame ineffective marketing and advertising for not putting this in front of more prospective buyers. It's not just a vehicle for schlepping your kids around; it's an incredibly versatile car for anyone that values room, comfort, and practically - even good looks. Chrysler needs to get the word out. I've personally persuaded several people who were in the market for a mid- to full-sized CUV to buy the Pacifica instead (with lack of AWD being the sticking points for two that stuck with traditional crossovers). But I already know what's going to happen - FCA will whittle down options availability and drop models (particularly at the high end) to keep costs down blaming slow sales, which will only ensure that buyers cant find the car equipped as they want which will further hamper sales, until the Pacifica is discontinued due to low sales.

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