WINDSOR, Ont. — A second round of auto worker layoffs in recent months has led politicians to jump to assure workers as the automotive sector undergoes significant transformation.
Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains went to Windsor, Ont. Friday to voice his support after Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. said it would cut 1,500 jobs at its assembly plant in the city.
"We're here to support workers, we want to fight for every single job," he said by phone ahead of a meeting with FCA president Reid Bigland.
The company said Thursday it would cut the third shift at its Windsor plant, which produces the Chrysler Pacifica and its hybrid version, as well as the Dodge Grand Caravan, at the end of September to better align production with global demand.
The now looming cuts add to the 2,600 unionized jobs at risk after General Motors said in late November it would shut production at its Oshawa, Ont. assembly plant by the end of the year.
The combined cuts that will affect tens of thousands of spin-off jobs has grabbed the attention of politicians, said Unifor president Jerry Dias.
"I think there's a shift in mindset, in both provincial and federal political arenas. I think people are understanding now that rhetoric is cheap, people need action. People are really staring to understand that."
Bains said Friday the government would include the Pacifica hybrid model in an electric vehicle rebate program announced as part of the most recent federal budget after the union complained that it didn't meet the criteria.
"That should help Canadian families that are trying to drive cleaner vehicles to do so in a more affordable way," he said.
The government could also use a federal strategic innovation fund to potentially entice new investments in the sector, said Bains.
"We think we're really well positioned to continue to see new mandates here in Canada for the automotive sector."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was committed to lowering electricity prices and taxes to help attract investment, and that the provincial government was ready to support those affected.
"I have a message for every worker at FCA in Windsor, their spouses, their children and the workers and their families who depend on FCA supply chain. I share your disappointment, but I also share your resolve," he said in Cambridge, Ont.
The premier was in Cambridge to mark the opening of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada's north plant after a $1.4-billion investment to produce RAV4 sport utility vehicles.
Toyota's ramp-up in SUV production, thanks in part to $110 million in federal funding, comes as the market continues to rapidly move away from sedans as well as minivans, leaving politicians with few options to stop cuts to production of those vehicles, said auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers.
"This has got nothing to do with the plant, nothing to do with Chrysler, nothing to do with the vehicle itself, nothing to do with the unions, it is Adam Smith pure and simple. If people aren't buying your product, you've got to address your costs."
He said the auto sector in general is coming off a peak and he's seeing cuts to production and headcount at smaller operations as well on widespread expectations of continued declines.
"The auto sector clearly is on the downside of the cycle, where you expect these things to happen."
Dias said the auto market is pulling back more than people expected, and couldn't rule out more job cuts in the industry.
"It's more than what people thought. So we'll see, because obviously it's critical to the economy."
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the minister would go to Windsor Saturday.