The ‘Freedom Convoy’ Is Really Screwing Autoworkers

Many autoworkers are already hurting because a global semi-conductor chip shortage has meant less work. The anti-vax truck protests made things worse.
Hundreds of truck drivers and their supporters gather to block the streets of downtown Ottawa as part of a convoy of truck protesters against Covid mandates in Canada on February 11, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Hundreds of truck drivers and their supporters gather to block the streets of downtown Ottawa as part of a convoy of truck protesters against Covid mandates in Canada on February 11, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Canadian trucker “freedom convoy” protesting vaccination mandates and COVID restrictions hit auto production on both sides of the border last week, affecting thousands of autoworkers Canada and resulting in canceled shifts in the U.S. at a time when a global semiconductor chip shortage has already hamstrung the auto industry. 

The Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit with Windsor, Ontario reopened over the weekend, after a nearly weeklong blockade ended following negotiations between authorities and demonstrators, a court order, and more than two dozen arrests. The convoy, which has ground the capital of Ottawa to a halt since late January, continued to persist Monday, however, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told provincial premiers Monday that he would invoke emergency powers to attempt to bring the convoy protest to an end, Bloomberg reported.


But before the bridge reopened, several companies including the Detroit Three—Ford, GM, and Chrysler Stellantis—were forced to shut down production at various plants and facilities in both countries.

“We originally were supposed to be at work all this week, and it came right out of the blue that this hit,” Debbie Shaw, a 26-year-old autoworker at a Detroit Three plant in Windsor, told VICE News on Friday. Shaw lost three days of work last week “directly to the bridge,” she said, getting a subsidized but reduced wage for shifts she would have worked if the plant hadn’t shut down production.

In total, Shaw has lost more than three months’ pay over the past two years due to COVID-19 and the continuing global semiconductor chip shortage, which has already cost the global auto industry hundreds of billions of dollars

Shaw is a member of Unifor, a Canadian trade union which represents more than 300,000 workers in the auto and other industries. The union estimated last week that approximately 12,000 members had either been temporarily laid off or were working on reduced shifts because of the Ambassador Bridge shutdown. Unifor denounced the convoy protest in a statement last week and called on all of Canada’s federal political parties to condemn the convoy.


“Protesters are denying workers access to their jobs and economic security, including thousands of Unifor members,” the union said in a statement. “This disruption threatens the job security of members, many who are also facing layoffs due to microchip shortages and other supply chain challenges.”

While the effect of the convoy protest hasn’t been as pronounced in the U.S., it has exacerbated the problems caused by the chip shortage. Ford shut down its assembly plant in Avon Lake, Ohio Friday afternoon “as a result of a part shortage associated with” the convoy. Shutting down the bridge “hurts customers, auto workers, suppliers, communities and companies on both sides of the border,” a company spokesperson told VICE News in a statement last week. 

But Ford then shut down both the Ohio plant and another in Kansas City for this entire week and said it would reduce shifts at other facilities, attributing those closures to the continuing microchip shortage. Workers at the Avon Lake plant are eligible for unemployment during the missed week of work, according to the United Auto Workers Local 2000.

At least six factories in the Great Lakes region had to stop work last week, according to NPR. Toyota said last week that the convoy had affected production at facilities in West Virginia and Alabama, and told Reuters the company would suspend production at its plants in Georgetown, Kentucky, and Windsor through Saturday, Feb. 12. 


General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker, canceled three shifts Wednesday and Thursday at its plant in Lansing, Michigan, the company said last week. United Auto Workers, which represents more than 400,000 active members in the U.S. and Canada, told VICE News that a few shifts at U.S. plants ended early Saturday but none were canceled. 

Public sentiment decidedly turned against the convoy last week, before the Ambassador Bridge had cleared. An Ipsos poll in Canada last week found that while 46 percent of Canadians held some sympathy for the protests, nearly 60 percent thought that “the truck protest is mostly a group of anti-vaxxers and bigots intent on causing mayhem and they should not be allowed to protest,” according to Ipsos

“I believe that it's everybody's individual right for what they choose as far as the vaccination, and so on and so forth,” Shaw told VICE News. But, she said, “this entire situation is counterproductive to what they were fighting for…we’ve crippled this country, we’re not opening it up at all. It’s at a standstill, and it’s affecting people’s lives in so many different ways.”

The Ambassador Bridge reopened late Sunday after more than two dozen arrests, with Windsor police chief Pam Mizuno calling the resolution a “peaceful outcome.” Shane Wark, an assistant to the Unifor national president, told VICE News in an email that operations and hours of work at Canadian auto plants are “normalizing” after the bridge reopening, but said that approximately 800 workers at Ford’s engine plant in Windsor “will continue to experience temporary layoffs this week due to a combination of parts and semi-conductor chip shortages.”

Hundreds of truckers continue to protest in Ottawa, even after Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the Canadian capital. 

“Everybody is fearful” after two years of periodic disruptions to work and paychecks, Shaw said Friday. “It’s very hard to plan when you don’t know if you’re going to be working steady.”

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