Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ford recalls plant workers as auto industry rebounds

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WINDSOR, ONT. -- Brett Dunne's three-and-a-half year wait could soon be over.

Laid off from Ford of Canada in August 2008, the 43-year-old could be back on the job in late April, when the automaker begins to phase in a third shift at its Essex engine plant.

"It's been a long time," he said, following word Wednesday the third shift will likely recall at least 100 workers on layoff. "It'll be nice to go back to work."

"It hasn't been easy for the past 31/2 years," said the married father of three. "But you know what? You do what you have to, to make it work."

Manufacturers across Ontario are ramping up production and returning some much-needed jobs to the sector in response to a surge in auto sales.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. also announced a major boost in production on Wednesday.

Toyota will increase production of its RAV4 compact crossover at its assembly plant in Woodstock, Ont., adding about 400 jobs in early 2013.

Brian Krinock, TMMC president, said the $80-million investment in the plant was part of the company's Project Green Light announced in June 2011. The federal and provincial governments committed nearly $71 million each to Toyota to increase productivity and support the production of greener, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Toyota is building its first all-electric vehicle in North America, the RAV4 EV, at the Woodstock plant under the initiative. Krinock said the RAV4 production ramp-up to 200,000 units annually from 150,000 is the second of seven projects in Project Green Light.

"It's increasing capacity with existing lines," Krinock said. "There are bottlenecks and constraints, and the majority of the investment is going towards equipment modification."

The production growth is also the result of Toyota's increased confidence in the recovery in the auto sector, Krinock said. "We are very optimistic about the recovery, and where we see the North American market going."

March auto-sales figures, due out next week, follow a dramatic rise in Canadian auto sales in January and February -- up more than 13 per cent year-over-year.

In the U.S., auto sales rose 14 per cent in the first two months of the year, according to Scotia Economics.

Ford builds engines for its F-Series pickup trucks and Mustang cars at the Essex plant. Adding the third shift is expected to boost output by 40 per cent, said spokeswoman Lauren More. The plant employs about 640 workers who assemble about 970 engines a day on two shifts. More said U.S. sales for the F-Series are up 17 per cent overall this year, and in Canada, they are up about 25 per cent.

At the end of 2011, 55,000 people were employed in auto manufacturing in Canada -- more than the 51,000 employed at the lowest point for the sector in 2010, but down dramatically from the 73,000 who worked in the sector at the end of 2007, prior to the industry's collapse.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2012 B4

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