The Canadian Auto Workers union acknowledges that Detroit's Big 3 have problems. But as talks begin for a new collective bargaining agreement, the union's theme is simple: Don't look to the CAW to solve them all.
CAW President Buzz Hargrove says Canada is doing more than pulling its weight in the automakers' North American business. He says he does not want to see U.S. issues addressed by cutbacks in Canada. Hargrove says automakers' finances would be worse without Canada's contribution.
As Detroit automakers face growing strength from import competitors, they are relying increasingly on Canadian plants. The CAW says there's a huge cost advantage to building vehicles or parts in Canada vs. building them in the United States.
For example, the CAW estimates that lower labor costs in Canada save General Motors nearly $500 million Canadian a year (about $410.6 million U.S. at current exchange rates). A GM spokesman declined to comment on the negotiations or on the CAW figures.
The current three-year agreements for the 41,000-member union expire Sept. 20. Automakers and the CAW agree that cost cutting is crucial to increasing their competitiveness, but they could clash over how to do it.
The union will decide which automaker to start negotiations with and use the agreement with that automaker as a template for the others.
Compared with Ford Motor Co. and GM, DaimlerChrysler is on relatively solid footing. Some of the hottest vehicles in North America, including the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger and the company's perennially solid-performing minivans, are made at Ontario assembly plants.
"DaimlerChrysler is probably in the best position of any of the companies to take a strike," Hargrove said, but he would not name a strike target.
Jason Stein, Mary Connelly and Amy Wilson contributed to this report