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About 900 South Korean workers will be at the plant for up to 18 months

Posted: December 01, 2023

An aerial view of the construction of the NextStar Energy battery plant in Windsor, as photographed in June 2023. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Future investments could be on the line, a Windsor union president warns, as a result of the political turmoil over the temporary hiring of South Korean workers for the NextStar EV battery factory. 

In remarks on Wednesday at Parliament Hill with Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk, Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy said the issue had turned into “political hay.”

“The facts of the matter are, if we’re not part of these investments on a global scale, then we’re out of the game,” Cassidy said. 

“It’s driving me crazy because we have more investment coming to Windsor. We have another company that’s going to invest $3 billion with one company and they have a decision: if they’re going to come to Windsor or they’re going to go to Mexico. And when they see this going on, it’s ridiculous.”

Cassidy didn’t provide further details on the proposed investment.

WATCH:  Trudeau, Poilievre trade barbs over South Korean EV plant workers

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre get into a heated exchange over the NextStar EV battery factory’s use of foreign workers during question period.  3:02

Drawing on his background as an electrician, Cassidy said there was “nothing abnormal” about bringing in workers for a project like NextStar. 

“It’s nothing abnormal, when we build machinery here, that we follow it — whether it’s to Asia, whether it’s the United States, whether it’s to Mexico — to make sure it’s up and running,” he said. 

“There’s proprietary stuff with this equipment that we got to make sure is right and we get it right.”

Cassidy condemned Conservative Essex MP Chris Lewis, who he says has been “silent” on the issue. 

When reached by CBC News, Lewis said in a statement the Liberal government has not been clear about how many workers will be brought in to work at the plant. 

“Justin Trudeau is not worth the cost to our union workers and must come clean to Canadian taxpayers and release the contracts,” Lewis said in a statement, tying the issue to inflation and affordability woes.

“Pierre Poilievre and the common sense Conservative[s] will bring home powerful paycheques for our union workers and make sure that any use of Canadian tax dollars will only go to support Canadian workers.”

NextStar announced last week that up to 900 South Korean workers would be coming to Windsor to work on the installation of equipment at the NextStar EV battery plant, part of about 1,600 outside contractors the company will bring in. 

NextStar said the technicians from South Korea have “specific knowledge” of the advanced equipment being installed to get the plant up and running.

“Upon completion of their work (lasting between three months to a year and a half), they will return home. These are not permanent full-time jobs,” the company said in statement, 

The plant is expected to open in 2025 and employ as many as 2,500 people. The factory is a partnership between LG Energy Solution and Stellantis. 

Speaking on Parliament Hill, Cassidy dismissed criticism that foreign workers were “taking jobs” from Canadian workers. 

(Patrick Morrell/CBC News)

But Canada’s Building Trades Unions, with represents workers that are part of 14 unions, said bringing South Korean workers was an “insult” to Canadian workers. 

“We traditionally work alongside original equipment manufacturer representatives when we install the equipment, but not 900,” Sean Strickland, the group’s executive director, said last week.

NextStar will receive about $15 billion in production subsidies.The federal Conservatives have called for an inquiry into hiring at the plant because of the massive subsidies the company will receive. 

“They will come here, get a taxpayer-funded paycheque and take it back to their country,” Poilievre said last month.

But Kusmierczyk said it was important to “talk about [the project] in facts.”

“[The] Stellantis battery plant in my hometown, in Windsor, is the single most important investment in the history of our community,” Kusmierczyk said. “That battery plant represents my community, represents the future, represents the hope. 

“It will provide permanent full time jobs for 2,500 Canadians local from my community, building batteries for generations to come.”

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