Ford Chosen by Unifor as Canadian Bargaining Target

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Image: Ford Motor Co.

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Unifor has selected the Ford Motor Company as its target for collective bargaining. Once negotiations conclude, the union will be using the terms established with the automaker to lay the groundwork for pattern deals with General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

While the talks have not yet begun, we already know Unifor wants to cement production commitments in Oakville, Ontario, where Ford is rumored to be ending Edge assembly. It would also like to secure deals for FCA plants in Brampton and Windsor. Naturally, the union will also be demanding wage increases  though this is sometimes the most contentious issue. Contract talks from 2016 became stuck in the mud over higher pay until Ford insisted employees remain subject to a 10-year wage grow-in that union members had been split on. It’s unclear if that will remain the case in 2020 but we genuinely haven’t had high hopes for the Union pulling out anything that resembles a major victory.

Despite Unifor President Jerry Dias assuring everyone he’s on top of things, we’ve wondered what could realistically be achieved. Canada seems on the cusp of losing several important facilities with few ways of tempting automakers to stick around. Dias is shaking things up, however. Rather than negotiating the usual four-year contract with the auto industry, Unifor plans to run with a three-year deal that would put it on track to renegotiate on the same cycle as the UAW.

“We’re sick and tired, frankly, of going to bargaining a year following the U.S. contract negotiations and fighting for product. We’d rather negotiate product in 2020 and then go head-on in 2023,” Dias explained to the press.

According to Automotive News, the UAW took little offense to the Canadian union’s change in tactics. “We support our brothers and sisters at Unifor and will not interfere in their contract discussions,” it said in a statement. “However, the real product issue is not between the U.S. and Canada, but instead the offshoring to Mexico, China, and other nations of existing products and new products. Only fair trade and trade enforcement will fix that problem.”

Dias has stated he’s already been discussing securing production agreements in Oakville with Ford, noting that it seemed more receptive than GM was in regard to Oshawa. But it’s going to tough negotiating all around, with Unifor banking on electric vehicles serving as the metaphorical ace up Canada’s sleeve. Dias has already requested Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford sweeten the pot for automakers interested in sticking around and sees the nation as willing to subsidize EVs and their production more heavily than the United States might.

From Automotive News:

[Kristin Dziczek, vice-president of industry, labour and economics at the Center for Automotive Research,] said the federal government’s willingness to dole out incentives is an advantage Canada has over the United States. The Canadian government also might be more willing to incentivize EV production, given its goals on climate change and provincial zero-emission vehicle mandates in Quebec and British Columbia.

But she said that because pure battery-electric vehicles have “among the lowest U.S., Canada or North American content” of all models sold in the market, it could be difficult for the automakers to build them in Canada and still comply with regional content requirements in the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. To do so would likely require automakers to either make major investments throughout the supply chain to support production or to be willing to pay tariffs.

“Whereas if you make an EV in the U.S. and sell it primarily in the U.S., you could comply with USMCA or not,” Dziczek said.

While the industry certainly talks a lot about new-energy vehicles, it’s unclear how seriously Detroit actually plans on pursuing them. FCA has shown minimal interest in EVs and had the late, great Sergio Marchionne saying he was quite skeptical of an electric takeover just a few years ago. Now things look a little different, with most established automakers making a run on battery-powered cars. But production is going to be extremely limited until customer demand improves. Unifor’s leadership seems to think it will and has made it an important aspect of its upcoming negotiations.

“Everything is on the table,” Dias said. “But there’s no question we’re spending a lot of time talking about electric vehicles.”

Unifor’s contracts with the Big 3 expire on September 21st and will impact around Canadian 17,000 workers. When asked for comment, Ford of Canada said it’s looking forward to reaching a collective agreement ahead of the deadline and noted its long history of collaborating with unions. But it noted that we were living in a time of “economic uncertainties” and would like employees to keep that in mind as everyone strives to maintain jobs as negotiations continue.

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

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