As Unifor-Ford talks kick off, workers scoff at pattern deal
Unifor President Jerry Dias was able to persuade General Motors and Fiat Chrysler to invest in Canada.
Now the biggest remaining hurdle for the head of Canada’s auto workers union may be Ford Motor Co. workers themselves.
Unifor was set to begin bargaining with Ford today after 70 percent of FCA workers approved a new contract on Sunday. The deal, patterned off the contract the union reached with GM in September, includes wage gains, a move to a defined-contribution benefit plan for new workers, and more than C$330 million ($251 million U.S.) in commitments to plant investments.
While Ford -- like FCA before it -- has expressed skepticism about the GM pattern, some Ford employees have explicitly said such a deal won’t fly.
Dave Thomas, president of Unifor Local 707, told Reuters in early October that workers at Ford’s Oakville, Ontario, assembly plant would likely turn down a deal similar to the one set with GM.
Thomas said workers at the plant have told him they want a more generous deal that, among other things, would shorten the 10-year wage grow-in for new workers that was implemented in 2012.
“The framework that GM has set forward won’t ratify in Oakville,” Thomas said. “My members have huge concerns.”
In the event of a strike, Ford appears to have enough of an inventory cushion to withstand at least a short walkout. Vehicles produced at the Oakville plant -- the Ford Edge and Flex and the Lincoln MKX and MKT -- have at least 76 days of supply.
A strike would also mean engine production would halt at two engine plants in Windsor, Ontario. They build V-8s for the F-150 pickup and Ford Mustang, as well as V-10 engines for the F-series Super Duty.
Unifor’s top priority in negotiations with Ford remains securing investments at the engine plants.
“In each round of negotiations, the union has set clear objectives, and so far we have reached these, including our top priority to secure investment and defend good jobs in local communities,” Dias said in a Sunday statement. “With Ford, our union will accept nothing less.”
Marc Renaud, vice president of Unifor Local 200, which represents workers at the engine plants, said there is plenty of space for a new product at the Essex Engine Plant.
Renaud said he hasn’t seen any Ford engineers or management team members in the massive empty space recently.
He said no one on the master bargaining committee has “has tipped their hat” about what, if anything, may be coming to Windsor. He said the roughly 1,500 workers in Windsor remain hopeful.
Should Unifor secure new product, that might not be enough for workers in Oakville, which has already received a major investment from Ford in the last few years.
Dias would likely need to persuade Oakville’s members to sign on if a deal patterned off the GM contract would have any chance of passing. Ford employs 5,000 or so workers at Oakville, vastly outnumbering the 1,700 workers employed in Windsor.
Dias is likely to make a pitch to Ford workers that is similar to the one he made Oct. 11 when announcing the FCA deal, saying the GM pattern secures the long-term future of Canadian auto manufacturing while giving workers raises for the first time in about a decade.
“Things are starting to change in a significant way in this country,” Dias said. “We are seeing a major investment occurring now in Canada.”
Negotiations with GM and FCA went down to the final minutes before their respective strike deadlines.
GM, after months of vowing it would not discuss product commitments until after labor negotiations, agreed to shift some final assembly of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup from Fort Wayne, Ind., to the Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant. The factory, which previously had no product slated for it beyond 2019, will also continue to build the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala.
FCA agreed to a C$325 million investment in its Brampton assembly plant’s aging paint shop following days of hardball negotiating in which it deemed the pattern set by the GM contract to be “too rich” for the company. Dias gave credit to FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne for the deal, saying his “candid” talks and direct involvement in negotiations allowed the union to secure investments.
The GM and FCA contracts include $6,000 signing bonuses, legacy workers receiving a 4 percent raise over the life of the deal and new hires getting wage increases each year under the 10-year grow-in period. The grow-in period previously had a three-year wage freeze. New hires also move onto a defined-contribution benefit plan.
Greg Layson contributed to this report.
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