Windsor union members rally for Employment Insurance reform

Some Windsor union members are demanding the federal government change its employment insurance program so that more people will qualify for benefits.

Dozens of Unifor Local 195 members rallied outside the office of Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk’s office Monday, the union’s national day of action on EI reform.

Some of those rallying were former auto workers at Syncreon Automotive, which supplied materials to Stellantis’ Windsor Assembly Plant.

Half of Syncreon’s 298 workers — all of whom were laid off on Oct. 31 — have not qualified for employment insurance (EI), according to the president of Local 195, Emile Nabbout. He said this situation is a prime example as to why the government needs to change its EI program.

Nabbout said many former Syncreon workers don’t have enough hours to qualify for EI since the company closed down for stretches of time due to COVID-19 and the microchip shortage.

As a result, many have not had any sort of income.

According to Uniform Local 195, some workers have only worked 200 hours between May 1 to Oct. 31. But in order to qualify, employees need at least 420 hours — this number then varies depending on what part of the country people live in.

“Unifor has been highlighting this issue for a decade, but in the last two years our members in Windsor especially [those] working in the manufacturing sector has been impacted because of the COVID crisis, because of the chip shortage,” Nabbout said.

Emile Nabbout is the president of Unifor Local 195. He says the union has been pushing the government to overhaul its Employment Insurance (EI) program for some time now, but nothing has changed. (Jennifer LaGrassa/CBC)

“We ask [the government] to really look at EI and have a permanent fix to the EI system.”

During the pandemic, the federal government introduced temporary EI measures to better help people cope. These included a standardized qualifying threshold of 420 hours and suspended allocation of severance.

Nabbout said he wants to see the following changes to the current EI system:

  • Reduced qualifying hours to 360 total for everyone across the country.
  • To make sure that severance pay doesn’t impact people’s weekly EI earnings.

“We all know the inflation rise, we all know that the community has been impacted … yet our government is still not taking the necessary steps to make sure when you have an interruption to your income, that system need to provide you with a temporary income until you return back to the workforce,” he said.

Kusmiercyzk was not at his office during the rally. CBC News spoke with him about this issue at an announcement he attended in Essex. Kusmiercyzk said the “vast majority” of Syncreon workers do qualify for EI, but he agreed that the program needs to change.

“We need to modernize our EI system. We need to strengthen it to make sure that more workers can access it,” he said.

“We make sure that it is also sustainable and making sure that it provides workers with the support that they need to get through the rough patches during their working lives.”

Nabbout said he has been in talks with Kusmiercyzk for quite some time, but would like to see him speak directly with workers and actually make some changes to the system.

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