Plan to use 900 foreign workers at Windsor EV battery plant called an ‘insult’ to Canadian labourers

A national organization representing skilled workers describes NextStar’s plan to use as many as 900 foreign workers to install equipment at the electric-vehicle (EV) battery plant in Windsor, Ont., as an “insult” to Canada’s tradespeople.

Sean Strickland is executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU), which represents more than 500,000 skilled trades workers in 14 unions.

He said the work should go to trained Canadians — specifically workers in southwestern Ontario.

“It’s just absolutely unconscionable,” he said. 

“We need to find a way to resolve the situation and maximize the number of Canadian jobs on this project.”

Strickland said workers under their umbrella have performed similar “state of the art technology” in the automotive sector for the past 100 years — including battery plants across North America.

He said NextStar’s requirement of 900 foreign workers who have experience with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is beyond industry standards his organization has seen.

Sean Strickland of Canada's Building Trades Unions is photographed during a Zoom call.
Sean Strickland, executive director for the CBTU, says, ‘We need to find a way to resolve the situation and maximize the number of Canadian jobs on this project.’ (Dalson Chen/CBC)

“We traditionally work alongside original equipment manufacturer representatives when we install the equipment, but not 900.”

On Thursday, NextStar confirmed its plan to hire about 1,600 technicians from outside suppliers to assemble, install and test equipment, including up to 900 “temporary specialized global supplier staff,” mainly from South Korea.

“They have specific knowledge of the equipment, having been part of the team to build it and disassemble it for shipping, and will therefore see the installation through,” the company said in a statement.

An aerial view of large industrial buildings under construction.
An aerial view of the construction of the NextStar Energy battery plant in Windsor, as photographed in June. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The plant, a partnership between Stellantis and South Korean company LG Energy Solution, is slated to open in 2025, and received $15 billion in federal and provincial subsidies. 

Until his trades union secures a meeting with the companies — which Strickland says has yet to take place — he said it’s too difficult to say what would be an acceptable number of workers coming to Windsor for the project.

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Strickland said work continuing at the battery plant adds urgency.

“I know the base of the building is pretty well done. I know they’re pouring concrete and the equipment install is probably going to happen in the next number of weeks,” he said. “It just re-emphasizes the fact that we need to have a conversation with Stellantis and NextStar.”

The Construction Employers Coordinating Council of Ontario and Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario spoke out against NextStar’s plans.

In a joint emailed statement issued Friday, the two groups said their workers have been involved in the construction, installation and maintenance of projects within the auto, EV and battery sector over the last decade.

“The suggestion … workers need to be brought in on permits to get this completed is a false narrative,” the statement said. 

“Put simply, there isn’t a project in Ontario that our Ontario contractors and skilled trades workforce can’t build and we urge the company and the government to engage in dialogue with industry to ensure that happens in Windsor.”

Fedeli says Ontario workers will receive training

Vic Fedeli, provincial minister of economic, job development and trade, said Friday he spoke with NextStar CEO Danies Lee about workers coming to Windsor for the project. 

“These workers will also assist with training 700 Ontario workers to equip them with net new skills that will lay the groundwork for work on future projects of this kind as we transition to building the cars of the future,” Fedeli said. “To be clear, these temporary workers will come to Windsor to perform this highly specialized work, upskill Ontario workers, and then return home.”

François-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of industry, said he spoke to the building trade unions Friday and they’re “very much on the same page.”

“Now, what I want to do is to sit down with the company, sit down with the unions, and — and making sure that we understand fully the landscape,” Champagne said. “What is the minimum required amount of people that we need to transfer the technology, and make sure that Canadians and Canadian workers could operate, build this plant, so that we have benefits for generations to come.”

A man in a suit faces the camera and raises one index finger.
Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne says he’s pushing for a meeting between Canada’s tradespeople union and the companies involved in the Windsor EV battery factory. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

But other industry and economic experts have said bringing foreign workers to set up and install a new project is very much expected. 

“This is what’s going to happen with every partnership, especially in the electrification space with a foreign entity, and I think it’s got to be sort of the pill that needs to be swallowed for a short amount of time,” Joe McCabe, president of Auto Forecast Solutions, told CBC News this week. 

“Anywhere you’re going to partnership with a foreign entity, you’re going to have representation from that foreign entity … at least for the kickoff, especially in a battery electric field.”

NextStar said Thursday the temporary staff would be working on site anywhere from three to 18 months before returning home.
 
“These are not permanent full-time jobs,” a spokesperson said. 

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