Frank Stronach's new-found armistice with organized labor is being tested at a Magna International Inc. plant in Kentucky.
The Magna founder and chairman signaled a new era with labor last week when he welcomed the Canadian Auto Workers to organize Magna plants in Canada.
In exchange, the previously anti-union Stronach required a no-strike pledge and maintenance of a culture that pays workers based on financial and operational performance.
The UAW wants the same deal in Kentucky, where UAW Region 3 in Indianapolis is trying to organize Magna's Cosma International plant in Bowling Green. The plant's 800 nonunion workers make frames and engine cradles for Ford Motor Co.'s two assembly plants in Lou-isville, Ky.
UAW Vice President Bob King, head of the union's Ford department, tried informally in 2005 and 2006 to get Magna to accept an agreement allowing an unopposed union vote at the plant. Undeterred by that rejection, the UAW has used more traditional tactics such as leafleting and holding off-site organizing meetings.
Last week, representatives from Region 3 and UAW Local 2164 in Bowling Green met with Magna workers at the local union hall, a source said. The local represents about 950 workers at General Motors' Bowling Green assembly plant.
The source said Magna's new approach to the CAW bodes well for the Cosma organizing drive. "If Magna can make overtures to the CAW, we look to this plant as the next thing to happen," the source said.
The recent UAW ratification of a new GM master contract also helps, the source said. The GM contract includes provisions for a $14-an-hour wage for new hires, showing suppliers such as Magna that the union can make realistic contract demands.
Magna spokeswoman Tracy Fuerst declined to discuss the UAW drive at Bowling Green, but she confirmed that Magna has held discussions with the UAW for a CAW-like "framework of fairness" at Magna's U.S. plants. Those discussions have been tabled because of the UAW talks with the Detroit 3.
The UAW has organized eight of Magna's U.S. plants with 4,000 hourly and salaried workers. Magna has 18,050 employees at 52 U.S. plants and 19 product development sites.
The CAW represents three Magna plants in Canada with 1,000 workers. In Canada, Magna has 61 plants, 20,700 employees and eight product development sites.
Until last week's detente with the CAW, Stronach kept unions at bay by building small plants and offering generous pay and benefits.