Truck blockade at US-Canada border prompt auto plant closures

Truck blockade at US-Canada border prompt auto plant closures
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 8:18 PM EST
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DETROIT (WILX) - The busiest border crossing in the United States faced partial closures Thursday as protests continued into its fourth day.

Protestors blocked traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. It began Monday afternoon, causing traffic backups for miles in Canada and Michigan.

Update: Ontario declares emergency over truck blockades in Canada

The protest was organized with a group called the Freedom Convoy. Protestors have used hundreds of parked trucks to block traffic. They said they oppose vaccination mandates that require truck drivers crossing the border to be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements.

The blockages has left thousands of trucks on the freeways with nowhere to go.

The automotive industry was already struggling with supply shortages, but with the Ambassador and Blue Water bridges at a standstill, some factories are also at a standstill.

General Motors canceled multiple shifts at its Delta Township plant due to a part shortage caused by the protestors. With suppliers unable to transport parts, multiple automakers have no way to keep their assembly lines running, causing closures at auto plants in the U.S. and Canada.

The automotive industry relies on the Ambassador Bridge as the main link between Canadian suppliers and assembly plants in Michigan. It’s the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada, carrying 25% of all trade with Canada, with the auto industry being the primary user. Even a short shutdown complicates chain issues.

Read: Trucks backed up for miles at Ambassador, Blue Water bridges along Michigan-Ontario border

Roughly one-third of a billion dollars worth of goods cross the bridge every day.

“We are one giant industry cluster that is very very auto centric,” said Jason Miller, with Michigan State University’s department of Supply Chain Management. “The operations are designed assuming that border is very fluid and when you take that away, it’s going to cause chaos in the auto sector, but more broadly, ripple effects that will eventually effect other industries.”

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this,” said Carla Bailo, president of the Center for Automotive Research. “The industry will do whatever they can to try to source from other areas, but sometimes you have no choice but to stop production.”

If the protests continue, there could be major issues beyond Michigan.

“Right now, it’s plants in Michigan but it will start cascading to plants further away,” Miller suggested.

If the Ambassador Bridge were to open now, supply chain experts said the damage is already done and it will take time to recover.

“Think of it as a long jam on a high way. Just because they clear the wreck, it doesn’t mean the traffic starts flowing at full speed immediately,” Miller said. “It takes a while until we get the log jam worked out.”

The Teamsters Union denounced the protest.

“The Teamsters Union denounces the ongoing Freedom Convoy protest at the Canadian border that continues to hurt workers and negatively impact our economy. The livelihood of working Americans and Canadians in the automotive, agricultural, and manufacturing sectors is threatened by this blockade,” said Teamsters president Jim Hoffa. “Our members are some of the hardest workers in the country and are being prevented from doing their jobs.”

François Laporte, the president of Teamsters Canada, said the protests do not represent the industry in which 90% of drivers are vaccinated.

“The so-called ‘freedom convoy’ and the despicable display of hate lead by the political Right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada, nor the vast majority of our members, and in fact has served to delegitimize the real concerns of most truck drivers today,” Laporte said in a statement. “We firmly believe in the right to protest government policies and voice a wide array of opinions, but what is happening in Ottawa has done more harm to Teamsters members, be they Truck Drivers who were trying to deliver their loads, or hotel, restaurant and healthcare workers who were intimidated, abused or prevented from accessing their workplaces, by several protesters.”

Politicians on both sides of Lake Huron are trying to end the blockade in order for trade to resume.

President Joe Biden’s administration urged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to use its federal powers to end the truck blockade.

Read: US urges Canada to use federal powers to end bridge blockade

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said the protestors have a right to their opinion and a right to protest, but it’s hurting too many people.

”Be it here, or on Parliament Hill, or in Coutts, Alberta, we need to appreciate that these demonstrators are our fellow Canadians, and that they have a fundamental right to their views and their opinions,” Dilkens said. “They don’t have a right to affect you, or your family’s ability to earn a living, and they’ve gone too far.”

Officials in Windsor are seeking an injunction that would order the protestors to leave or allow police to remove them by force.

“The economic harm is not sustainable and it must come to an end,” Dilkens said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a statement Thursday calling on Canada to resolve the crisis. It can be read in full below.

Dilkens said Whitmer offered heavy equipment, security and other resources to help.

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