At least six auto plants near the U.S.-Canada border have slashed output as the impact from a protest blocking truck traffic into Detroit begins rippling through both nations’ economies.
Toyota Motor Corp. said it will idle three plants in Ontario due to parts shortages caused by the bridge blockade. General Motors Co. canceled two shifts at an SUV factory in Lansing, Michigan. Ford Motor Co. on Thursday reduced capacity at its factories in the province, while Stellantis NV curtailed shifts Wednesday night at multiple facilities in the U.S. and Canada, including a Ram pickup truck plant outside Detroit.
The worsening situation portends a lengthy and more intractable struggle as demonstrators move to restrict traffic at other bridges along the U.S.-Canadian border. After blocking roads coming into Ontario earlier this week, protesters have expanded their action in Windsor and are now restricting traffic into the U.S.
Both countries are learning that the economic damage can pile up fast: Every day, about $355 million in goods cross the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday urged Canadian officials to find a quick end to the crisis. The concerns echoed warnings from Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens that the protest can’t be allowed to go on indefinitely because of the potential turmoil it can cause for businesses.
Traffic was not flowing in either direction as of Thursday morning as protesters blocked both Canada-bound traffic exiting the bridge and U.S.-bound vehicles entering it, said Dan Stamper, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge.
“We’re all anxious to see a resolution to the issue,” Stamper said in an interview.
The Windsor Police Department said on its Twitter account that lanes are open headed into the U.S., but demonstrators are “making it difficult to access the bridge.”
The fallout is starting to hit auto manufacturers, which have many manufacturing facilities in the area that rely on local distribution. Toyota stopped production at Ontario plants due to a lack of parts, the company said Thursday. The factories in Woodstock and Cambridge, Ontario, make key models like the Lexus RX and RAV4 SUV, and will be down through Saturday.
“We’re working closely with the prime minister’s office and we’re hopeful that this can get turned around quickly,” said Scott Vazin, a Toyota spokesman. “But it’s going to have a big impact on us for sure.”
Jeep-owner Stellantis had to cut short shifts at both Canadian and U.S. factories Wednesday night, though all of them had resumed production Thursday, the company said. The affected plants included a Ram truck facility in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and a Detroit plant that makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to people familiar with the plants’ operating schedules.
Stellantis said it’s working closely with its carriers to get parts to factories and mitigate further disruptions. The situation brings “further hardship” to workers and industries already grappling with a fragile supply chain and pandemic effects, Jodi Tinson, a spokeswoman for Stellantis, said in an email.
GM cut two shifts in Lansing, where the automaker builds the mid-sized Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave. Ford said it shut its Windsor engine plant on Wednesday, but reopened the following day at reduced capacity. Its SUV assembly plant in Oakville is also operating at reduced capacity, the company said.
Ontario is home to three of the largest auto-parts suppliers in Canada: Martinrea International, Linamar Corp. and Magna International Inc., which collectively supply castings, engine and powertrain parts, seats and interior components, among other things.
“That bridge is very important for trade to the automotive industry,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions. “We’re looking at plants on both sides of the river being affected.”
The blockade started Monday as an offshoot of the trucker convoy in Ottawa to protest a vaccine mandate for drivers who travel across the U.S. border. Since then, it has grown along with a right-wing movement that opposes Canada’s COVID-related restrictions and dislikes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Among the protesters at the bridge this week was Steve Leather, a 52-year-old worker at Stellantis’ assembly plant in Windsor. Leather has been on unpaid leave since Jan. 31 because he refuses to get the vaccine, and he’s waiting to see if Unifor, his union, can negotiate a workaround so he can return to work.
The union is in staunch opposition to the protest.
“These blockades at border crossings serve no purpose other than to attack workers’ jobs by threatening production slowdowns and additional periods of layoff,” said Shane Wark, assistant to Unifor President Jerry Dias. “They must come to an end.”
Settlements have been elusive, with Windsor’s police force and Ontario Provincial Police showing little progress in negotiations with protesters. Elsewhere in the country, protests have shut down traffic at major border crossings in Manitoba and Alberta. Even as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney put an end to the province’s proof-of-vaccination system Tuesday evening, protesters haven’t budged.
Police are trying to encourage protesters to move to a lawful location and are using a “soft touch” approach to keep the demonstrations peaceful, said Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superintendent Roberta McKale.
“Certainly it’s easier if people make the decision themselves to move,” McKale said Thursday by phone.
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