Union asks feds to intervene in use of international workers to build EV battery plant

Canadian workers are asking for the federal government to step in to stop the reliance on foreign workers to build a heavily subsidized electric vehicle battery plant in southwestern Ontario.

Canada’s Building Trades Union, which represents half a million construction workers, penned a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting his personal intervention in the “ongoing use of international workers in the construction of Stellantis and LG’s NextStar EV Battery Plant” in Windsor, Ont.

The construction of two new electric car battery plants promised to create jobs for Canadians, however after months of Windsor contractors submitting quotes for installing equipment at the battery plant, it was disclosed that NextStar and Stellantis were hiring 1,60o temporary foreign workers from South Korea and Japan to install the equipment.

This decision could ultimately cost Canadian skilled labourers around $300 million in lost wages and contractor fees, according to Canada’s Building Trades Union. 

Sean Strickland, executive director of the trade union, said efforts to resolve the situation with the auto companies have been unsuccessful.

“Over the past several months Canada’s Building Trade Unions have diligently worked to secure an agreement to ensure Canadians are employed in the construction and installation phases of this project, through several months of fruitless meetings with Stellantis and LG,” reads the letter, obtained by True North. 

“Our efforts have so far failed due to LG and Stellantis’ intransigence.”

The union said it attempted to negotiate a resolution behind closed doors and without media attention, however, both Stellantis and LG continued to use international workers via sub-contracting, despite the union having skilled workers readily available for the work.

“One hundred and eighty local skilled trades workers in the Essex-Kent region – Millwrights and Ironworkers – are unemployed and available to perform this work,” the letter continues. “In fact, Canadian workers are now being replaced by international workers at an increasing pace, on work that was previously assigned to Canadian workers.”

A day after the letter was written, the plants were expecting the arrival of 50 additional international workers, which Strickland called a “slap in the face to Canadian workers and utterly unacceptable from LG and Stellantis.”

Conservative industry critic Rick Perkins said in a statement the Liberal government was dishonest about the need for foreign workers.

“Justin Trudeau’s ministers also lied when they said this was only a short-term issue required for foreign replacement workers who could contribute “specialized knowledge,” he said.n“All of this is happening while Windsor continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 8.1%. This is wrong, and these jobs should be done by workers in Essex and Kent who are currently unemployed.”

Strickland pointed out that while Canadian workers are getting shafted, Stellantis and LG “stand to benefit from more than $15 billion in generous tax incentives from the Government of Canada.”

The joint project between LG Energy Solutions and Stellantis received $15 billion in subsidies from both the federal and provincial governments last year to manufacture EV batteries.

The companies claim that the use of international workers is due to “knowledge transfer” or “specialized knowledge.” 

Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk argued that there was nothing abnormal about bringing in foreign workers to install equipment at plants last fall, saying that it was commonplace in the auto industry. 

Strickland and those in the union don’t see it that way, however, instead calling it a “brazen displacement of Canadian workers” by major international corporations who seek to “thumb their noses at both the Government of Canada, taxpayers and our skilled workers.”

According to Strickland, the current state of affairs is “intolerable”and his union is requesting that Trudeau tell Steallantis and LG to cease and desist their use of sub-contractors employing international workers. 

The letter asks that the prime minister instruct his ministers to halt the flow of new international workers being brought in to work on the EV plant and require these companies to sign new agreements with “labor conditionality on tax incentives.”

“End this intolerable situation for Canadian workers,” reads the letter. “Canada’s Building Trades Unions are united in our request, and we require actions.”

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