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Future of Wescast's Wingham, Ont. facility in jeopardy

The parking lot at Wingham’s Wescast manufacturing facility is fairly empty on Monday, and it could be even emptier in the future.

“The local union here at Wescast was given notice that there would be a lengthy shutdown here at Wescast, sometime shortly. That’s really all we know. No exact timeline or details, as of yet,” explained Joel Sutton, Unifor Local 4207 plant chair at Wescast.

Wescast called the upcoming shutdown of the factory’s foundry — which reports suggest could start as early as August and last anywhere from six to eight months — a temporary shutdown to re-evaluate the business model for making castings of exhaust manifolds and other automotive parts in Wingham.

During the shutdown, parts will be manufactured in Wescast’s plant in Wuhan, China, and then shipped to Wingham for machining. Sutton said the union views the foundry’s “temporary shutdown” as a “plant closure.”

“It seems like they’ve been on a path to force our customers into moving all the work and jobs that happen here to China. They’ve kind of manufactured a situation that’s making it impossible for us to succeed. And, they don’t seem interested in taking on any new business, even though there’s some available to us,” said Sutton.

Joel Sutton, a 26 year-long Wescast employee and Unifor Local 4207 plant chair stands in front of the Wescast manufacturing facility in Wingham, Ont. on May 2023. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

Wingham’s foundry opened in 1902 making cast iron wood stoves. They transitioned to automotive parts in the 1970s, selling primarily exhaust manifolds to companies like Ford, GM and Volvo. In 2013, Wescast was purchased by Sichuan Bohong of China for $200 million.

Sutton said in the early 2000s, more than 800 people worked for Wescast in Wingham. Today, that number is less than 300.

“This place has put a lot of money into a lot of families, in a lot of communities, for a lot of years. And I think the impact will be widespread throughout the area,” said Sutton, who has worked for Wescast in Wingham for the past 26 years.

Sutton said the shutdown of Wescast’s Wingham foundry will directly impact approximately 175 employees, with another 100 in the machining department, which will, reportedly, stay operational during the foundry’s closure.

But, Sutton fears the foundry’s “temporary shutdown” marks the beginning of the end of Wescast in Wingham.

“I really don’t see it, not the foundry and machining capacities. I hope I’m wrong, but I think they’ll be moving on. If they can capture this work, and make it in their plants in China, I don’t think it’s coming back,” he said.

The union maintains that overseas sourcing of the castings violates program commitment guarantees in the collective agreement and is the subject of a prior grievance filed by the union earlier this year.

Work at Wescast facility in Wingham, Ont. on Aug. 2, 2019, (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

“With a complete failure by management to properly invest in this facility, it's been up to workers to keep this plant running and do more with less," said Sutton. "Wescast has profited from this situation and wants to turn around and reward our hard work and dedication by violating our collective agreement, closing the plant, and moving our work overseas. It's disgusting."

“Wingham can't afford to lose hundreds of good jobs and neither can the industry," added Naureen Rizvi, Unifor Ontario regional director. "Maintaining these jobs and the footprint of our auto parts supply chain is crucial to maintaining the skilled workforce and industrial capacity needed for the transition to electric vehicle manufacturing."

Despite repeated attempts, CTV News London did not receive any official response from Wescast or its parent company Sichuan Bohong in regards to the upcoming changes to Wecast’s operations in Wingham.

According to Unifor, the collective agreement between the union and Wescast is set to expire this year and negotiations were about to begin. Top Stories

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