Unifor push to unionize Ontario Toyota workers hits snag

Unifor has experienced a delay in its efforts to make three car manufacturing plants in southwestern Ontario the first unionized Toyota facilities in North America.

Unifor says it was confident it had 40 % of employees sign union cards ahead of the vote

Unifor National President Jerry Dias, right, says he is convinced there is enough support at the plants to hold a vote on whether or not to unionize. (Matthew Kang/CBC)

Unifor has hit a snag in its efforts to make three car manufacturing plants in southwestern Ontario the first unionized Toyota facilities in North America.

The union is withdrawing an application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board to become the bargaining agent for employees at Toyota's two plants in Cambridge, and one in Woodstock.  A vote to unionize that was set to get underway Monday will no longer take place.

Jerry Dias, Unifor's national president, said Thursday evening the withdrawal of the bargaining application is a temporary setback. The union says it is going to take the time get more union cards signed. 

"We are very close," said Dias. "People might have become a little complacent, people aren't complacent today. People are mad." 

How many workers are there at the plants?

Unifor says it has about 3,000 cards signed so far. Under provincial law, 40 per cent of eligible bargaining unit members need to sign union cards before a vote can be held.

The union estimated the plants had 6,590 employees. But Unifor said that Toyota had submitted an employee list claiming it has around 7,500 employees who are eligible to be part of the bargaining unit.

This is the third attempt to unionize the 6,500 workers at Toyota’s Canadian assembly plants. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers previously tried to unionize the Toyota plant in 2008, and the IAM and CAW made a joint union drive in 2009.

Unifor says top concerns for Toyota workers include wages, pensions and workplace issues.

Ken Cleveland, who has been working at one of the plants in Cambridge for the last 17 years, says one issue he's seen repeatedly is the unfair treatment of contract workers.

"They have no benefits, they have no vacation," said Cleveland. "They have no protection, they're working in pain. They're afraid to report pain and injuries because they're afraid their contract won't be renewed."

Toyota wants employee information returned

As part of the voting process, Toyota says it gave Unifor an extensive list information on its employees. The data included details such as addresses and any medical or parental leaves. 

Greig Mordue, Toyota Canada's communications manager, says now that the vote has been put off indefinitely, it wants the data back.

"They know a range of information that we're frankly not comfortable with and I don't believe our team members would be comfortable with as well," said Mordue.

Unifor says it has no interest in fighting a legal battle over the employee information. However, Dias said they'll be "examining it closely."