May 14, 2012
On Monday, April 30, Chrysler Canada had to abruptly shut down production at its minivan assembly plant in Windsor. Workers at Dakkota Integrated Systems, a supplier, had unexpectedly gone on strike. Due to the just-in-time parts-delivery system, Chrysler suddenly had no more instrument panels to install.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. The Canadian Auto Workers’ contract was up for renewal, and the local leadership had unanimously recommended the new contract’s terms. All that remained was to vote. The vote was held on Sunday afternoon.
Surprise! The workers voted more than 60% NO. And then they did the next logical thing: they upset the apple cart, and went on strike after the midnight shift.
CBC news reported the CAW local president as saying, “Absolutely I was surprised.... It was a little bit of a shocker. To me it’s like committing suicide.”
The workers had done the logical thing, but evidently, not what the officers had intended!
In less than 24 hours, management changed their offer, to improve the hated “short shifting” rule. “Short shifting” at Dakkota meant that workers were sent home early, unpredictably, without compensation, whenever the Chrysler plant used less than a full shift’s production. After the improvement, the workers then accepted the new contract.
It’s not often, these days, that workers find a way to break through the wall of company-union “partnership” and impose a demand or two of their own. True, this action was very small and very brief. But it shows that the rank and file does have leverage – more than it realizes – when it seizes the time to act, over the heads of timid union leaders if necessary.