The Canadian Auto Workers union plans to use contract talks with Ford to improve pensions and limit the impact of modular assembly on jobs.
The CAW last week picked Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. as its strike target for labor negotiations this month. The union will negotiate a deal with Ford first, then use that agreement as a pattern for contracts with General Motors and DaimlerChrysler.
The current agreement with Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler in Canada expires Sept. 21. Pensions will be a key issue in the bargaining now under way in Toronto. Another thorny issue will be dealing with the effects on employment of increased use of modular assembly.
CAW President Buzz Hargrove says possible sticking points with Ford negotiators remain unknown.
In Canada, the pattern contract covers 48,970 workers who produce one-seventh of the cars and light trucks built in North America.
'We have a good relationship with Ford,' Hargrove said. 'We should be able to work with them and fashion an agreement and avoid a dispute.'
The automakers vie to be the strike target in order to shape the contract to their own needs.
Traditionally, the CAW and UAW choose different strike targets. Hargrove said the UAW had informed him that it will choose General Motors or DaimlerChrysler - but not Ford.
The UAW opposes Ford selling or spinning off its Visteon Automotive Systems parts unit. Workers fear the possible erosion of wages and job security. The spinoff is not an issue for the CAW, since the union does not represent any Visteon employees.
Ford welcomed Hargrove's announcement. 'We are pleased to be selected,' said Ford spokesman Jim Hartford. 'There are advantages in that you have an opportunity to fashion an agreement that meets the needs of Ford and its employees.'
The CAW has some $60 million (Canadian), or $40.6 million, in its strike war chest, and the union is not afraid to use it. Only once in the past 25 years has it reached a collective agreement without a strike. It last staged a strike at Ford during the 1990 negotiations, when workers closed its plants for nine days.
Said Hargrove: 'If we have to have a fight with Ford, we're up to it.'
Bloomberg News Service contributed to this report