Were it not for Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ outspoken CEO, about 9,750 Canadian auto workers could be on strike right now.
And, remarkably, that’s according to Jerry Dias, the Unifor labor chief on the other side of the bargaining table.
Less than four hours before the 11:59 p.m. Monday deadline, Unifor painted a somewhat bleak picture of negotiations between the union and FCA. The automaker, a Unifor spokeswoman told reporters around 8 p.m., was holding firm in deeming the union’s requests for investments and wage increases to be “too rich.”
There was a “major hurdle” to clear, and not a lot of time to get it done.
Then, nine minutes before midnight, Dias and his team gathered with reporters at the Toronto hotel where negotiations were taking place to tell them Unifor had reached a tentative deal with FCA.
Dias was candid when discussing how FCA agreed to the pattern established with General Motors. Were it not for Marchionne becoming directly involved with the negotiations, beginning with a meeting with Dias and other union leaders on Saturday, there might not have been a deal.
‘Not a charm school graduate’
“Sergio Marchionne isn’t a charm school graduate by any stretch of the imagination, so I appreciate his candid conversation because, frankly, candor is how we have to operate in this business,” Dias said. “There can’t be any room for misunderstandings or misinterpretations.”
Dias said he and his team “debated and argued” over the deal’s specifics, but Marchionne’s involvement is what he said ultimately led to a $325 million investment in the Brampton assembly plant’s aging paint shop -- the union’s top priority in negotiations.
The idea that Marchionne would step in and, in essence, agree to the pattern set last month in negotiations with GM might have been borderline unfathomable just a few days ago.
Not only was Marchionne not directly involved in talks until late in the game, but he was blunt and somewhat antagonistic toward Canadian labor leaders in 2012, when he told the Globe and Mail that FCA always has “other options” besides Canada and said union leaders would have to be out of “their right mind” if they wanted wages above those in the U.S.
In retrospect, though, it makes sense. Marchionne and Dias are both known in the industry as straight shooters. While their discussions were likely heated, their mutual love of blunt talk might have served as a catalyst for the deal.