DETROIT – Canadian truck drivers blocking the nation’s busiest border bridge between the U.S. and Canada in protest of that country’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate are now disrupting North American manufacturing, especially among automakers.
The White House on Wednesday said it was monitoring the problem “very closely.” Government officials have warned if the so-called Freedom Convoy blockade is prolonged, it could worsen supply chain problems, not just for the automotive industry but also for the medical and agriculture sectors among others.
The blockade is entering its fourth day on the Ambassador Bridge, which links Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Ontario. The route accounts for a quarter of goods traded between the U.S. and Canada.
“The blockade poses a risk to supply chains for the auto industry because the bridge is a key conduit for motor vehicles components and parts,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing Wednesday. “We’re also tracking potential disruptions to U.S. agricultural exports from Michigan into Canada.”
Psaki said the White House is in close contact with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities, as well as Canadian officials and auto companies. They are attempting to find alternative cross-border routes and alleviate the impact on U.S. production and motorists who use the bridge to get to work.
“We’re very focused on this. The president is focused on this,” Psaki said.
The blockade exacerbates an already tumultuous time for auto production, as companies continue to grapple with a prolonged semiconductor chip shortage that has caused sporadic closures of plants over the past year.
GM spokesman Dan Flores on Thursday confirmed the first shift at its Lansing Delta Township assembly plant in Michigan would be cut due to the problem. A second shift was cut Wednesday, he said.
Ford is running an engine plant in Windsor and an assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, on a reduced schedule, spokeswoman Kelli Felker said Thursday morning. It follows similar actions by the company Wednesday due to the problem, including a shutdown of the engine facility,
“This interruption on the Detroit-Windsor bridge hurts customers, autoworkers, suppliers, communities and companies on both sides of the border,” Ford said in a statement. “We hope this situation is resolved quickly, because it could have widespread impact on all automakers in the U.S. and Canada.”
Ford had already made significant cuts to production this week at several North American plants due to the chips shortage.
Toyota on Wednesday said it would not be able to manufacture anything at three Canadian plants for the rest of this week due to parts shortages, the Associated Press reported. A statement attributed the problem to supply chain, weather and pandemic-related challenges, but the shutdowns came just days after the blockade began Monday.
Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, cut shifts short Wednesday at its minivan plant in Windsor, according to local media reports. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The blockade on the large international suspension bridge is one of a growing number of protests in Canada by the trucking industry.
Protesters have also been blocking the border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, for a week and a half, and more than 400 trucks have been in downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, in a protest that began late last month, according to the Associated Press.
Truckers are protesting a rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring those entering Canada to be fully vaccinated. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shown no sign of easing the country’s restrictions, according to media reports.
Fran?ois Laporte, president of Teamsters Canada, which represents over 55,000 professional drivers, including 15,000 long-haul truck drivers, has condemned the protests, saying they do not represent the 90% of drivers who are vaccinated.
“We firmly believe in the right to protest government policies and voice a wide array of opinions, but what is happening in Ottawa has done more harm to Teamsters members, be they truck drivers who were trying to deliver their loads, or hotel, restaurant and health-care workers who were intimidated, abused or prevented from accessing their workplaces, by several protesters,” he said in a statement earlier this week.