Photo of the Windsor Assembly Plant, September 4 2017. (Photo by Adelle Loiselle)

New Air Bag Rules In U.S. Shuts Down WAP Temporarily

There is word Windsor Assembly Plant will shut down for a total of five weeks this fall for retooling because of new legislation in the U.S. governing airbags.

Unifor Local 444 President James Stewart says the Chrysler Pacifica was designed to the new specifications, but the Dodge Caravan was not.

“The side airbags are the ones that run along the top and the side, inside the van, and if there is some kind of side impact or rollover, they deploy to protect the passengers in the back,” he explains.

He says the shut down is planned for the four weeks in October and the final week of November.

A look inside Windsors Chrysler Assembly Plant, February 9, 2015. (Photo by Jason Viau)

A look inside Windsors Chrysler Assembly Plant, February 9, 2015. (Photo by Jason Viau)

A statement from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles says the plant will be down starting the week of October 2, “to balance production with the anticipated volume shortfall related to the previously announced temporary production suspension of the 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan for the U.S. market only.”

“Additionally, a previously scheduled holiday week was moved to the week of November 27 to perform maintenance activities,” reads the statement.

Under the new legislation, no vehicle made after September 1 can be sold in the U.S. unless it meets the new regulations. That means any new Dodge Caravan that rolls off the assembly line can not be sold across the border until the plant retools.

“The shut down is two-fold,” says Stewart. “One to make some changes in the plant — and then the other part is because you have a reduced market for a time, there is an adjustment in sales.”

He suggests the impact could be significant. If 300,000 vehicles are built in Windsor annually, only 30,000 are for the Canadian market.

As for what that loss in sales could mean for employment locally, Stewart is optimistic saying the company planned.

“It’s a good product. We had been building up until August on a lot of weekends,” says Stewart. “There’s a lot of overflow in the lots in the United States today, because as long as it was shipped to the States prior to that date, that was fine.”

Unfortunately, Stewart admits the timing of the layoff is unfortunate. About 4,000 workers at the Windsor Assembly Plant qualify for SUB benefits which will provide them with 65% of their paycheque, but 2,000 others, newer hires, do not yet qualify for those benefits. They’ll have to apply for unemployment insurance.

Workers at various auto parts plants in the region could be affected too.

“You’re coming into Christmas. You’re missing a month’s work. It’s going to be difficult on our members,” he says. “The good news is, long-term this is a good solution. They are making the changes, and by Christmas time, we’ll be building again for the U.S. market.”