TORONTO — As Unifor and the Detroit 3 prepare for this year’s round of bargaining, uncertainty hovers over each of the three assembly plants that will be the focus of much of the talks.
“We pretty well have to find solutions at every plant,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said. “We’ve got huge problems right through the system. If we don’t find solutions in Brampton, we have a problem. If we don’t find solutions in Windsor or Oakville, we have a problem.”
Contracts at all three of the Detroit automakers’ Canadian factories end Sept. 21, except for a collective agreement for workers at General Motors’ CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., which expires in 2021.
The talks follow contentious U.S. negotiations in 2019 with the UAW, strike actions taken by Unifor against GM at CAMI in 2017 and the union’s campaign against the automaker over plans to end vehicle assembly in Oshawa in 2019.
The union appears likely to push for long-term product commitments from the automakers, although the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensuing collapse in new-vehicle sales and political dynamics could make securing such commitments difficult.
The contract between Unifor and FCA is set to expire after the automaker’s planned cut of a shift at its Windsor minivan plant, affecting about 1,500 workers. The reduction, driven by a decline in North American minivan sales as many consumers choose crossovers, has Unifor looking for ways to save those jobs. In the past, the union has called for a work-sharing agreement and is also looking to secure new production for the plant.
“Fiat Chrysler knows that we’re not just going to sit around and accept it,” Dias said. “They know we need to put in a vehicle at Windsor at some point.”
The good news for Windsor is that FCA appears committed to the minivan segment despite falling sales, and the factory is the only one in the company’s portfolio that can currently build the Chrysler Pacifica, Grand Caravan and Voyager, said Joe McCabe, CEO of AutoForecast Solutions.
“The vans are still important,” he said. “As crossovers have cannibalized that space, volumes have diminished. But we don’t see FCA getting out of that space anytime soon.”
Unifor will also seek commitments for the Brampton plant, which has long been the subject of speculation because of the aging low-volume products it builds and the valuable real estate it sits on. The plant builds the Dodge Charger and Challenger and Chrysler 300 sedan.
But like Windsor, McCabe said, the Brampton plant is relatively insulated because FCA is committed to continuing to sell the Dodge muscle cars, which are highly profitable for the company.
The negotiations will also cover the automaker’s Etobicoke casting plant in Toronto.
“FCA Canada has maintained a long-standing collaborative relationship with our Unifor partners,” FCA spokeswoman LouAnn Gosselin wrote in an emailed statement. “We are optimistic that we will be able to reach a labour agreement that will sustain the company’s competitiveness in Canada.”
Ford Motor Co.
Negotiations with Ford will revolve around the future of the Oakville assembly plant, which employs 4,200 hourly workers. In June, AutoForecastSolutions,citing supplier sources, said it no longer forecasts that the next-generation Edge crossover will be built there. That would leave the plant without a product in 2023 and beyond.
“We always understood that the next generation of the Edge was ours, so where is it?” Dias said. “If it’s not the Edge, what is it?”
The negotiations will also involve Ford’s Windsor engine operations, which employ about 2,000 workers who assemble the 5.0-liter V-8 for the Ford Mustang and F-Series trucks and the Super Duty large V-8.
“We’re in good shape at the engine plant, I would argue,” Dias said.
In a first, this round of negotiations between Unifor and GM will not involve an assembly plant, following the end of vehicle production in Oshawa in 2019. GM said then that it would convert Oshawa into an operation that builds aftermarket parts. About 300 workers make those parts, though that number could rise if programs are added.
“That’s good work, and it’s stable,” Dias said, “but we need to see what that longer-term commitment looks like with GM because so far, we’ve only seen what they originally committed to in 2019.”
The bulk of GM workers covered under this round of negotiations — about 1,185 — are employed at the St. Catharines Propulsion Plant, which builds engines and transmissions for several GM models assembled throughout North America. The negotiations do not cover GM’s CAMI plant, which builds the Chevrolet Equinox crossover.