(Photo courtesy of Lana Payne's Facebook page)(Photo courtesy of Lana Payne's Facebook page)

Unifor demands feds deliver for Windsor EV battery plant

Unifor officials are at the table with government officials in an effort to save the multi-billion dollar agreement to build an electric vehicle battery plant in Windsor.

"The Government and Stellantis are playing a high-stakes game that is betting the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Canadian automakers," said Unifor National President Lana Payne in a statement responding to reporting by the Toronto Star that the future of the plant may be in jeopardy.

Related story: Kusmierczyk reassures feds committed to EV battery plant (Audio)

The report published Friday stated Stellantis might pull out of the plant if the federal government doesn't match the investment level provided to Volkswagen for its battery gigafactory in St. Thomas.

Stellantis spokesperson Lou Ann Gosselin didn't say so explicitly but sent WindsorNewsToday.ca a statement from the company that read, "The Canadian government has not delivered on what was agreed to. Therefore, Stellantis and LG Energy Solution will immediately begin implementing their contingency plans."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Elgin County Railway Museum. Photo by Rebecca Chouinard. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Elgin County Railway Museum. Photo by Rebecca Chouinard.

The subsidy for the St. Thomas plant, announced three weeks ago by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford, totals $13.2-billion in public funds over five years. By contrast, officials announced $4.9-billion for the plant in Windsor.

"The shift to electric vehicles has created a fiercely competitive environment, as evidenced by the IRA incentives in the U.S.," said Payne. "These plants will anchor the communities that they are built in for generations to come."

As of Saturday morning, Unifor Local 444 President and Payne were unavailable for comment.

A source with Unifor Local 444 who is close to the talks did say, "Dave Cassidy (as well as Unifor National President Lana Payne) is in discussions with Stellantis, the federal government and the provincial government regarding the future of the Windsor EV battery plant. He is right in the middle of this in talks (at the top) with both levels of government."

Windsor West MP Brian Masse said the current uncertainty is why Canada needs a national automotive policy.

"This is not unexpected in many theatres because we don't have a defined open plan for investment," said Masse. "When you do have an investment agreement, and then shortly thereafter, another one, then sometimes it creates some discussion between the province, the federal government, and new employers wanting the same type of investment."

Windsor West MP Brian Masse outside the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, October 11, 2018. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Without knowing all the details of the Stellantis agreement, Masse admitted it's difficult to say if the company is simply negotiating to sweeten its deal.

"We're left wondering what the specific investment calls for, how much money and other supports are involved," he said. "It's really only the City of Windsor's investments that are becoming more public because of the process involved. The federal and provincial governments hide behind their ability to not have to divulge all the details."

Masse believes the current uncertainty is likely part of a negotiating process to get more funding for Windsor's plant.

"That's why the U.S. has more of a strategic advantage because they are going through with a formula process to win investment," Masse said. "We have to respond to that. Responding to one-off deals is not really a sustainable way for the auto industry to proceed. Without clear rules of engagement, it leads itself to be in these up and down situations."

Masse said he has called for more transparency in large investment deals.

He confessed there is a risk Windsor could lose the investment or Stellantis and LG Energy could scale the project back, but he is confident the plant will continue to move forward.

"I can confidently say that the workers of this region are by far the most productive and the most capable of producing long-term success for any employer," Masse continued.

He also had a warning for the Liberal federal government and Conservative provincial government.

"We have seen some automakers walk away from government support because there was such nonsense between the federal government and the province and political parties sparring," he said. "I think that this will hopefully turn itself around with the proper type of adults in the room."

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