Michigan officials call for trucker protest to end 'immediately and safely'
Michigan’s auto industry is beginning to feel the impact from a trucker protest against US-Canadian vaccine mandates for their industry that has largely shut down Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, Ontario, over the past four days.
General Motors canceled sports utility vehicle production shifts Wednesday and Thursday at its plant near Lansing, while Canadian auto plants at Windsor and suburban Toronto ran at reduced capacity because of the bridge logjam.
Both Ford Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday they had been forced to halt some operations because of supply chain disruptions stemming from the shutdown of a trade span that normally carries 8,000 trucks and more than $323 million of goods a day.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the bridge is the busiest international land-border crossing in North America and accounts for nearly a third of the two-way annual trade between Canada and the U.S., estimated at more than $600 billion.
Said Deep, a spokesperson for Ford, told the New York Times Thursday that the protest imperils an industry already under strain because of parts shortages.
“This interruption on the Detroit-Windsor bridge hurts customers, autoworkers, suppliers, communities and companies on both sides of the border that are already two years into parts shortages resulting from the global semiconductor issue, Covid and more. It could have widespread impact on all automakers in the U.S. and Canada.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined the calls for the bridge to reopen on Thursday, saying the economic impact from the slowdown continuing is too great.
“It is imperative that Canadian local, provincial, and national governments de-escalate this economic blockade,” she said in a statement. “They must take all necessary and appropriate steps to immediately and safely reopen traffic.”
Windsor officials on Thursday sought a court injunction to end what the city's mayor, Drew Dilkens, called an "illegal occupation." He told reporters Whitmer has offered to assist in dispersing the trucks.
"The state of Michigan and the governor's office directly have offered to send over heavy equipment to help remove vehicles to provide security," Dilkens said.
"They've offered to do whatever is required to help and this blockade as well... We want to do it peacefully, that's the ultimate goal, and we hope the protesters understand that a court injunction has to be enforced at some point, and police are the ones to do that."
A Whitmer spokesperson didn't return a message seeking comment about the statements on Thursday.
Matt Moroun, chair of the Detroit International Bridge Co., the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, predicted “commerce and our shared economies will grind to a halt” if the Canadian government doesn’t clear the traffic or end the vaccine mandate that prompted the blockade.
On Monday, Canadian truckers calling themselves the Freedom Convoy blockaded the Ambassador Bridge, causing massive traffic delays on both sides of the border. The truckers launched the convoy in angered response to U.S. and Canada rules that took effect Jan. 22 requiring cross-border truckers to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter either country.
As trucking traffic was rerouted from the Ambassador to Port Huron’s Blue Water Bridge to Canada, that span became the scene of massive traffic backups as well. Authorities asked motorists to avoid freeways around Port Huron, as traffic came to a standstill along eastbound I-94 and eastbound I-69 for several miles west of the bridge entrance.
There are growing signs of a U.S. trucker protest similar to that in Canada, as truckers opposed to vaccine mandates are laying plans for a protest convoy that would end in Washington, D.C.
In the Canadian capital of Ottawa, hundreds of trucks have paralyzed the city and shuttered businesses for more than two weeks. Though polls show a majority of Canadians oppose the trucker protests, they also embody resentments by a minority of Canadians to pandemic restrictions.
Experts looking at the auto industry impact agree that the industry could quickly make up for the interruptions by ramping up production once the bridge is opened to traffic. But each day the closure lingers poses a greater threat to a sector vital to the state’s economy.
“Because the industry is so complex and the supply chain is so complex, it doesn’t take much to disrupt that,” Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto, an initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber, told Bridge Michigan.
“There are thousands of components that go into a vehicle and it doesn’t take much to disrupt that chain.”
In 2019, MICHauto released a study that found the automotive industry in Michigan contributed a total of $225 billion and 291,000 jobs to the state’s economy in 2017.
“We have 12 (auto) assembly plants in Michigan and the longer this goes on the greater impact we will see, not just at the assembly plant but at the supply plant — and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of those in Michigan,” Stevens said.
Proponents of Michigan trade with Canada note that it’s only been six months since the border with Canada has been fully open, after COVID-19 restrictions closed the border to all but essential traffic in March 2020. That caused considerable harm to the state’s $26 billion tourist sector, which saw more than 1 million Canadian visitors a year before the pandemic struck.
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