FCA hires additional 1,200 workers at Windsor Assembly

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Windsor Star/Grace Macaluso

TORONTO — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ “unprecedented” $3.7-billion investment in extensive upgrades at the Windsor Assembly Plant along with the new minivan program have created an additional 1,200 jobs at the facility, FCA Canada CEO Reid Bigland said Thursday.

The additional hiring brings to about 6,000 the total number of people employed at the Windsor plant and more than 11,000 at FCA’s Canadian operations, Bigland said as he unveiled the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. Last December, Bigland confirmed Windsor Star reports of a hiring spree at Windsor Assembly, but would only say that the total number would exceed 600.

Citing the one-to-nine assembly job spinoff ratio, Bigland said FCA’s Canadian manufacturing footprint translates into almost 100,000 jobs across the country.

“As a Canadian and head of Fiat Chrysler Canada, I’m very proud to be a part of almost 100,000 Canadians who are dependent upon our organization for their livelihood, and we’re only getting stronger, not only from an investment standpoint but from a new vehicle sales standpoint,” he said.

“In a time when good jobs are hard to come by, I’m very proud we’re doing our part here in Ontario and in Windsor.”

The additional hiring, he said, began about nine months ago amid the company’s plans to not only build the new minivan and its plug-in hybrid version, but continue production of the lower-priced Dodge Grand Caravan.

The $3.7 billion “is truly an unprecedented amount of investment for the disproportionate benefit of our Canadian operation,” he said, adding it paid for the plant’s three-month retooling last year, development of the electric minivan and all-new platform, capable of building a variety of vehicles.

Mayor Windsor Drew Dilkens said the jobs infusion is welcome news for a city which has long held the title of unemployment capital of Canada.

“It’s great news for our unemployment rate,” said Dilkens, who attended the Toronto unveiling. “With each assembly job created there are nine other people who rely on that. So, it’s great news for our country, our province and certainly for the City of Windsor.”

At 9.3 per cent, the city’s jobless rate has fallen from double-digit peak levels, but reflects the region’s difficulty in trying to dig itself out of the economic crater created by 2008-09 recession, said Dino Chiodo, president of Unifor Local 444, which represents hourly workers at the Windsor Assembly Plant.

“The reality is we had facilities like Ford (engine plants) go from 6,000 workers to 1,500 over the last seven years. We’ve had the GM transmission plant exit Windsor-Essex County,” said Chiodo.

“We’ve lost a substantial number of manufacturing jobs, and although 1,200 sounds like a big number, when you’re talking about 20,000 people looking for work, 1,200 is only a glass of water out of a bucket.”

Still, the additional hiring solidifies the Windsor plant as the single largest vehicle assembly facility in Canada, added Chiodo.

“This is testament to the work that the union and management people have done to put this together over the last few years coming out of 2012 bargaining,” he said. “We’re proud Fiat Chrysler is using Windsor Assembly as a pinnacle facility, showing the world that Canada is competitive, and we’re proving that by building an award-winning vehicle.”

Bigland said the new Pacifica will help FCA maintain its dominance in the minivan category — a segment which continues to play an important role in the automaker’s product portfolio despite overall dwindling sales in North America.

After peaking at more than one million in 2000, minivan sales in North America totalled about 500,000 last year. But that decrease has much to do with competitors such as Ford and General Motors abandoning the segment, said Bigland.

“Others have vacated the segment, gone on to other things, picked up the ball and went home,” he said. “But our sales have never been better. The Dodge Grand Caravan has been historically the fifth highest-selling vehicle in Canada.”

And the new Pacifica reflects FCA’s confidence in the longterm future of the minivan, he added.

“The minivan segment has been phenomenally successful for us when you look at 14.2 million vehicles, 1,400 units built a day, five days a week, 24 hours a day with maximum overtime,” said Bigland. “And if you think about the minivan, it’s really a bet on the family.”