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'Freedom convoy' disruptions cost auto industry $300M in losses

Workers missed out on $145 million in wages and car companies lost $155 million because of vaccine mandate protests at key U.S.-Canada trade crossings, a study says.
Covid-19 mandates protesters block the roadway at the Ambassador Bridge
Covid-mandate protesters block a roadway last week at the Ambassador Bridge, connecting Ontario with Detroit. Geoff Robins / AFP via Getty Images

The trucker protests against vaccine mandates that have blocked key trade crossings between Canada and the United States have prompted losses of nearly $300 million in wages and production in the automotive industry, according to a study this week.The self-styled "freedom convoy" protests have blocked U.S.-Canadian border crossings, including the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, and the Blue Water Bridge, linking Sarnia, Ontario, to Port Huron, Mich.

The demonstrations have resulted in losses of direct wages totaling $144.9 million, mostly affecting Michigan and Ontario, from Feb. 7 to Tuesday, according to an analysis by the Anderson Economic Group, based in East Lansing, Mich.

During that same period, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota have lost an additional $155 million, Anderson said in a statement on Monday.

Lost wages in Michigan alone after the first week of protests tallied more than $51 million, the group said.

Patrick Anderson, the economic group's CEO, said Tuesday that the protests have led to “painful” shutdowns in Canada and the U.S.

“Three-hundred million in losses in eight days is quite a bit of loss,” he said. “It’s definitely very painful and very visible in Ontario and Michigan and extends down to Kentucky, Ohio and even Alabama.”

The bridge protests hit the auto industry as it was already struggling from pandemic-related supply chain problems, the study found.

“Many of the cars that weren’t produced during the past ten days will not go to the customers that would have bought them, as those customers are already headed elsewhere or are simply going to go without a new car at this time,” Anderson said in the statement.

“Within hours of the trade disruption at the Ambassador and Blue Water bridges, we observed shortages and then slowdowns at assembly plants. Only some of that lost production can be made up given the tightness of the auto industry’s supply chain right now, so these are real losses to the men and women working in this industry.”

The study reached its conclusion of nearly $300 million in losses by focusing on the lost production at assembly plants and delays at supplier and transit employers, the group said. The study assigned missed wages and production costs only to the portion that is delayed or lost.

The loss estimate presumes "that more than 90 percent of the disrupted trade volume reaches destinations within a window where it can be used productively,” according to the study. 

 The Ambassador Bridge opened late Sunday after authorities cleared a blockade.

The Detroit International Bridge Company, its owner and operator, said in a statement that the bridge was again “allowing the free flow of commerce between the Canada and U.S. economies.”

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens had proclaimed the end of the demonstration earlier Sunday.

“Today, our national economic crisis at the Ambassador Bridge came to an end,” he said in a statement.

There were dozens of arrests, and several vehicles were seized. Pam Mizuno, deputy chief of police in Windsor, echoed that declaration during an afternoon news conference, even as the bridge remained closed at the time.

The protests have drawn support from right-wing extremists and armed citizens in Canada, and have been cheered on in the U.S. by Fox News personalities and conservatives such as former President Donald Trump.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked emergency powers Monday to quell the demonstrations. The declaration gives the federal government broad powers to restore order.

He gave assurances that the emergency measures “will be time-limited, geographically targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address.”

“These blockades are illegal, and if you are still participating the time to go home is now,” Trudeau declared after meeting virtually with leaders of the country’s provinces.

The demonstrations have inspired similar convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. U.S. authorities have said that truck protests may be in the works in the United States.