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More than 200 layoffs as Midland factory closes doors

Official says the company hopes this is the best situation for its employees and the economy.
ZF Automotive Ltd. is temporarily shutting down its Midland operations in response to the three big North American auto industry giants temporarily closing their doors. Mehreen Shahid/MidlandToday

Uncertainty is the name of the game for many working at ZF Automotive's Midland operations.

The local auto-parts manufacturer alerted workers of its decision to temporarily close Friday after the big three North American automakers, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford announced temporary closures in the wake of COVID-19.

A member of the workforce, who's worried about the layoffs, talked to MidlandToday on the condition of anonymity.

"I'm one of the high-seniority people here," said the worker, who noted the company will bring in a skeletal crew to maintain critical processes, but will not be manufacturing anything.

"They're shutting down both plants and shutting down 100 percent."

The employee said that on the face of it, the move makes sense, since the company is a seatbelt and airbag manufacturer. 

"And when a customer shuts down, there is no motivation for us to keep producing parts for suppliers that have shut down their operations," said the member of the workforce that includes more than 200 workers. 

Where they may be able to rationalize the decision for now, the feeling of uncertainty is the hardest part to reconcile, said the employee. 

"It's not knowing when it's going to end. In a scheduled two-week shutdown, you know when you're coming back to work. You can budget for the two weeks and you could allocate funds to get you through the time," said the Midland resident. "That's one thing. But not knowing when this ends certainly creates a bit of risk and fear among people."

ZF North America, Inc. communications head Tony Sapienza said the company is following its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) customers’ decision to temporarily close.

"We’re a just-in-time business and if our customers don’t need parts we don’t need to operate,” Sapienza wrote in an email. “We had assumed that we will have to pause both individual product lines and entire plants in order to follow the interruption in demand and that is now coming true.

“At the same time, we are preparing to provide the best possible support for our customers' production restart after the corona break. All necessary preparations for this are now being made.”

Sapienza said the company hopes this is the best situation for its employees and the economy and looks forward to "getting through this and back to work very soon."

Mayor Stewart Strathearn said he thought this current crisis was going to create a lot of hardship for people.

"I think the federal government has taken steps to alleviate that, but is it enough? I don't know," he said. "Waiving of the (employment insurance) wait period is one. Another is upping the family-allowance payments.

"We've started to look at measures in our own right to help alleviate some of the financial burden on residents and businesses" said Strathearn. "We're looking at deferring payment of property taxes and deferring payments of water/wastewater bills. And we will no longer be enforcing parking meters. Those sorts of provisions that we have within our power to help out people."

For those out of work, the employee said not being able to go out and spend time with friends and family or being in a social gathering makes the temporary layoff harder to digest.

"I hope people get creative and meet through online means," said the employee, who along with everyone else is spending this week applying for employment insurance (EI) with Service Canada.

"We're not sure whether we'll have the EI waiting period waived. Prime Minister Trudeau has said that anybody affected by COVID-19 will have that week waived. We have had no communication from the company or the union, just that our record of employment has been electronically filed with Service Canada and we are to apply for EI benefits.

"People are going to have to adapt for the times and the next few weeks are going to be challenging for us."

-with files from Andrew Philips


Mehreen Shahid

About the Author: Mehreen Shahid

Mehreen Shahid covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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