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Chrysler employees back to work after $2B renovation of Windsor Assembly Plant

05/19/2015 07:35 EDT | Updated 05/19/2016 05:59 EDT
After 13 weeks of temporary layoff, Windsor Assembly Plant employees return to work today.

Chrysler Fiat Automobiles has finished its $2 billion US renovation and upgrade of its minivan assembly plant.

"It's like a new home," said Dino Chiodo, president of Unifor Local 444, which represents unionized hourly employees at the plant. "It looks like a brand new factory. In some areas, it's unbelievable."

Chiodo said this week is about "job station readiness" as employees learn new jobs, train on new equipment and review new or revamped health and safety issues.

Chiodo said he expects the first fully finished minivan to roll off the end of the assembly line by the end of the week.

"But I can't say that definitely," he said. "It takes a few days to get vehicles through the whole system."

In a one-line statement to CBC, FCA Canada's head of communications, Lou Ann Gosselin said full production is to resume May 25.

The plant will continue to build the same minivan model currently for sale on dealer lots across North America. The revamped and all new 2016 model will go into production sometime this summer.

Chiodo said when that happens, about 200 to 400 vans will be built for crash tests and other inspections before Windsor Assembly Plant begins to build the 2016 model.

Chrysler won't comment on future models.

Chiodo said the approximately 1,000 people employed locally at feeder plants are also back to work.

"Everybody should be back today" Chiodo said. "Technically, this is a system-fill week. It's not actually building a product. It's learning your job, system readiness, making sure there are no complications.

"The sense from our workers is a little bit of excitement, a little bit of nervousness. I think there's an entire sense of calm because obviously the longevity of the product is going to be there."

'Political football'

The retooling of the plant became a political hot potato back in 2014.

That's when Chrysler and the Province of Ontario were discussing government financial assistance to help retool the plant.

Former PC Leader Tim Hudak accused Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne of asking for "ransom money."

Marchionne eventually called the issue "a political football" and said the company would pay for its own renovations in their entirety.

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