August 8, 2022

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Auto Manufacturing Restarts After the Ambassador Bridge Is Cleared

Detroit-based auto makers have scaled back production in the U.S. and Canada and temporarily sent...

Detroit-based auto makers have scaled back production in the U.S. and Canada and temporarily sent Canadian employees home because of parts shortages caused by protests against Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
The lobby group representing the Big Three Detroit car makers in Canada and the union representing auto workers say
Ford
Motor Co. and
Stellantis
NV are experiencing production interruptions at their Canadian operations because of a protest—entering its fourth day—that has disrupted commercial-truck traffic at the Ambassador Bridge, a key U.S.-Canada trade corridor that connects Detroit with Windsor, Ontario.

Ford implemented a temporary shutdown at its assembly plant in Oakville, Ont., near Toronto, and it shut down an engine plant in Windsor. Stellantis had to cut short shifts this week. Representatives for Ford and Stellantis didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
General Motors Co.
on Thursday canceled the morning work shift at an assembly plant in Lansing, Mich., because of a parts shortage stemming from the disruption on the bridge, a spokesman said. GM also called off an evening work shift Wednesday at the same plant, which makes Chevrolet and Buick sport-utility vehicles.

Ford implemented a temporary shutdown at its assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario.

Photo:

James MacDonald/Bloomberg News

The scale-back in production is the first visible sign of economic fallout from protests, originally organized by truckers and their supporters, that since late January disrupted traffic and daily life in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, and this week halted traffic at the 1.6-mile Ambassador Bridge. The protesters are demanding that governments in Canada at all levels eliminate Covid-19 vaccine mandates and social restrictions that require people to be fully vaccinated against the virus to enter restaurants, gyms and movie theaters.
“These interruptions are currently resulting in short-term layoffs,” said
Shane Wark,
a senior official at Unifor, the union that represents workers at auto-assembly plants. “The situation is fluid, and changing by the hour.”
Brian Kingston,
president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, said the auto makers are working with shipping companies to mitigate further disruptions. “If this is allowed to carry on, the problem will only become more acute, and will have an impact on thousands of jobs,” he said.

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Footage showed trucks in gridlock on the Ambassador Bridge, a key trading link between the U.S. and Canada. It was temporarily closed early Tuesday amid growing protests against Canada’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates. Photo: WXYZ/AP

A spokesman for
Toyota Motor Corp.
said the Japanese auto maker expects some disruption at its Canadian operation between now and this weekend due to supply-chain constraints—among them disruptions at the Detroit-Windsor bridge—“and we’ll continue to make adjustments to our production plans.”
Limited traffic from Canada can enter the U.S. via the Ambassador Bridge, but commercial trucks and other vehicles originating in the U.S. can’t enter Canada. The bridge, one of the busiest border crossings in North America, accommodates roughly 30% of annual two-way U.S.-Canada trade, which recent U.S. data pegs at over $600 billion.
Commercial vehicles are being rerouted north to the Blue Water Bridge, which crosses the St. Clair River and connects Port Huron, Mich., with Sarnia, Ontario, roughly 66 miles north of the Detroit-Windsor crossing. Trucks on Wednesday were backed up more than 17 miles on Michigan highways leading to that bridge, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation said, adding that it was taking truckers up to five hours to cross the Blue Water Bridge.

Trucks heading to Canada were stuck in heavy traffic after they were diverted to the Blue Water Bridge connecting Port Huron, Mich., with Sarnia, Ontario.

Photo:

Mandi Wright/Associated Press

“They’re essentially putting their foot on the throat of all Canadians,”
Bill Blair,
Canada’s minister of emergency preparedness, told reporters about the protests, in particular the one targeting Ambassador Bridge traffic. “They’re cutting off essential supply lines and goods and services.”
Both the White House and Bank of Canada Gov. Tiff Macklem relayed concerns this week about the impact of prolonged disruption at the Ambassador Bridge. Business groups also fret that the protesters, among them truckers with heavy-duty rigs, could target other key trade corridors.
Drew Dilkens,
the mayor of Windsor, said he has formally requested more law-enforcement personnel from the federal government and the province of Ontario to deal with the protest in the border city.
“While we are hopeful the situation can be resolved in the short term, we need to plan for a protracted protest,” he said. “While it may be gratifying for some to see the forceful removal of the demonstrators, such action may inflame the situation and certainly cause more folks to come here and add to the protest. We don’t want to risk additional conflict.”
Write to Paul Vieira at [email protected] and Jacquie McNish at [email protected]

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