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It won’t be ‘business as usual for quite a while’ in Canada, Unifor says

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TORONTO — Unifor President Jerry Dias said he anticipates Canada’s auto assembly plants coming back online will do so initially as one-shift operations whenever it is determined that they can safely re-open.

“Even if they open up, it’s not going to be business as usual for quite a while,” Dias said. “They’ll ease into it based off of parts [availability] and based off the cleanliness of the facilities. They’ll likely rotate shifts and have groups at home. There’s going to have to be extended periods of time for cleaning.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has rattled the North American auto industry this month, virtually shutting down manufacturing in a matter of days and sending new-vehicle demand plummeting. All of Canada’s auto assembly plants have been temporarily shuttered as government and health officials urge people to stay home.

It remains unknown when automakers will restart their factories. Ford Motor Co., announced on Tuesday it was indefinitely delaying the restart of North American vehicle production, after previously saying it would ramp some of its factories back up starting April 6. 

General Motors, after initially offering a reopening date of March 30, told Automotive News it does not have “firm return-to-work dates,” while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said its shutdowns would last until at least April 14, “dependent upon the various state stay-in-place orders and the readiness of each facility to return to production.”

Dias, whose union represents workers at the four Detroit 3 vehicle assembly plants, said Ford was being “incredibly optimistic” with its prior return timetable. He cautioned that more shutdowns are possible even after plants restart.

“The bottom line is this is going to be based on the virus, and the scary part of this is that the [health] professionals are saying we’re going through the first episode and that there’s quite likely to be a second episode,” Dias said.

He said how quickly plants can restart after it’s determined to be safe to do so will depend in large part on how easily the automakers are able to source parts. Due to the regional and global nature of the supply chain, that means how quickly Canadian plants come back online would be determined in part on how quickly the United States can get the virus under control, he said.

“I’m more concerned about the United States than I am with Canada because I think the Canadian government got off the mark a hell of a lot faster than the U.S. government,” Dias said.

With more than 180,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday morning, the United States has more COVID-19 cases than any other country, according to a count by National Public Radio in the U.S. The New York Times, meanwhile, reported that several epidemiological models studied by the White House show that the pandemic “is likely to ravage the country over the next several months, killing close to 100,000 Americans and infecting millions more.”

According to Health Canada, there are 8,548 confirmed cases as of today.

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