Unifor President Jerry Dias said he is optimistic the union will maintain jobs at the remaining Detroit 3 plants in Canada during 2020 labor negotiations, even as analysts forecast production to drop in the coming years.
"It's too early to tell, but I would fully expect that 2020 bargaining will be successful from a job-maintenance point of view," Dias said. "Time will tell."
This year's labor negotiations come at a crucial point in the history of Canada's auto industry. Following the end of vehicle production at General Motors' storied Oshawa, Ontario, factory in 2019, the Detroit 3 are down to four vehicle assembly plants in the country.
Unifor will negotiate new contracts for workers at three of them this year. (GM's remaining Canadian assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, is on a separate contract that expires in 2021.)
Detroit 3 negotiations this year will cover two Fiat Chrysler Automobiles assembly plants and one Ford Motor Co. assembly plant, as well as Ford's Canadian engine operations, an FCA casting factory and a GM engine plant. This year, FCA planned to cut one of three shifts at its Windsor, Ontario, minivan factory and Ford was expected to shed about 450 jobs at its Oakville, Ontario, plant.
Unifor in recent years has been aggressive in attempting to save auto manufacturing jobs in Canada, with mixed success. In response to plans to end production at Oshawa, the union in late 2018 and early 2019 waged a major campaign against GM that included prime-time TV advertisements, plant walkouts and a blockade of the company's Canadian headquarters. GM and Unifor would ultimately agree to a deal that would save about 300 jobs at the plant by turning it into an aftermarket parts operation.
That followed a monthlong strike at GM's Ingersoll plant in 2017. The two sides reached a deal shortly after GM threatened to move production to Mexico, though the contract did not include language designating the factory as GM's lead producer of the Chevrolet Equinox crossover.
This year might not prove any easier for Unifor. Detroit 3 production in Canada is projected to drop by 27 percent by 2023, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. Rich UAW contracts that include commitments from the Detroit companies to invest in their U.S. operations leave few production options for Unifor this year.
Dias brushed off the CAR report, saying the Detroit 3 need to maintain a presence in Canada or risk losing business from Canadian consumers.
"That may be their opinion, but the facts are the automakers have some major decisions to make, as well, because Canada is a major market," Dias said.
Unifor is generally seen as more aggressive than many U.S. unions. Case in point: Dias was among several union members arrested at a Saskatchewan picket line on Jan. 20. The union was blocking access to a refinery, where workers have been locked out since December over a dispute about pensions.
Police said Unifor was in violation of a court order that limited how long the union was allowed to stop vehicles entering and leaving the refinery. Unifor disputed that, and Dias said the arrests only served to escalate tensions between the union and the company.
"This thing's getting even worse," he said, "and it's getting worse before it's getting better."