The roughly $900 million Canadian in investment commitments that Unifor has secured from the Detroit 3 thus far might not be enough to fully reverse the long-term trend of auto manufacturing jobs leaving Canada, labor experts say.
Tony Faria, co-director of automotive and vehicle research at the University of Windsor in Ontario, said that while the Canadian union has done "an exceptional job" in securing existing jobs at General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, the contracts they forged fall short of making the country as a whole more attractive to automakers.
"It's certainly good that we won't see the closing of yet another plant in Canada, but I don't think there's anything to suggest these contracts or investments point to a turnaround," Faria said. "I don't think the Detroit 3 in any way are going to build a new factory in Canada, and I don't think we're going to see new facilities out of Toyota or Honda in Canada."
Canada has lost about 53,000 auto jobs since 2001, according to a 2015 report by the Automotive Policy Research Centre in Ontario. Among the reasons: a post-bankruptcy consolidation of production, Canada's high energy costs and the rapid growth of Mexico as a North American production and export base.
Unifor President Jerry Dias has framed this round of negotiations with the Detroit 3 as a pivotal moment. "Things are starting to change in a significant way in this country," he said this month when announcing a then-tentative contract with FCA.
Unifor's leadership sees the investment commitments -- along with federal and provincial governments that appear more amenable to giving incentives -- as potentially sparking a turnaround in Canada.
"When you're competing in a world where jurisdictions at times are paying 100 percent of the capital costs of assembly plants, we also have to bring something to the table in terms of incentives," Brad Duguid, Ontario minister of economic development, told Automotive News Canada this month.
But Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry, Labor and Economics Group at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said it's too soon to tell whether the investments constitute the beginning of a reversal and whether they'll be enough to counteract global economic trends.
"There were three critical investments that Unifor had to pay attention to," Dziczek said, citing GM's Oshawa assembly plant, FCA's Brampton Assembly Plant and Ford's Windsor engine plants. "Securing investments in those plants is a good thing, but we don't know if it's a turnaround yet."