CAW confident about Chrysler's Canadian future

The CAW is confident Chrysler will invest in its Canadian operations in the future despite CEO Sergio Marchionne's concealing remarks at a press conference.
CAW president Ken Lewenza said Canadian plants have positioned themselves well for future investment. (Canadian Press)

The CAW is confident Chrysler will invest in its Canadian operations in the future despite CEO Sergio Marchionne's remarks at a news conference.

On Thursday the automaker announced a $238 million investment at three Michigan factories, which will create about 1,250 jobs.

"One thing I know about Sergio, he will not make an announcement on investment or product until the decisions are actually made," said CAW president Ken Lewenza. "My thoughts on the investment is it’s the continuation of good news in the Chrysler family."

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne (Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese)

Marchionne refused to comment on any potential Canadian investment Thursday. He also refused to say which, if any, of the two minivan nameplates will be discontinued.

"We have nothing to announce today," he said Thursday.

CAW isn't concerned

CAW Local 444 president Dino Chiodo, who represents Chrysler workers in Windsor, Ont., said he isn't concerned by Marchionne's comments on new Canadian investment.

"We've positioned ourselves well for future investment, which I think is going to come to fruition as well," said Chiodo. "It'll just be announced that it's time that it's going to be relevant, because we've positioned ourselves in good place with regard to standardizing our fixed costs."

The Windsor Assembly Plant is running three shifts and "it’s not likely you can squeeze another person in that facility in terms of expanding production," said Lewenza.

The Chrysler plant in Brampton Ont. is operating two shifts and if sales increased Lewenza expects a third shift to be added.

Canadian automakers 'positioned for future'

"So the Canadian plants have positioned as well as we possibly can, not just for today but for future investment," said Lewenza.

Despite Marchionne's comments, Chiodo remains convinced the automaker is here to stay.

"We're interested in doing what's necessary in order to keep our plants viable and at the same time, we're looking forward to the announcement of future investment, as we look forward to the future," said Chiodo. "And again, we're confident in that because of how we positioned ourselves in the collective agreement, with regards to standardizing our fixed costs."

The United Auto Workers union in the U.S. has agreed to steeper concessions than the CAW, making U.S. labour costs cheaper.

Going into the last round of negotiations, the Detroit automakers were paying an estimated $60 to $62 an hour for labour and benefits in Canada, compared with $50 an hour at Chrysler, $56 at Ford and $58 at GM in the U.S., according to the Center for Automotive Research, a non-profit research group.

Lewenza said he doesn’t believe Chrysler invested in Detroit because the UAW agreed to lower wages and benefits compared to the CAW.

"I’ve never said that wages are benefits or the success or failure of a company," said Lewenza.

Marchionne wouldn't say he's happy with the new contract, but thinks "it's an agreement that we can use."

"At the end of the day I’m not surprised at the investment and I’m not surprised that any CEO is not 100 per cent happy with the collective agreement," said Lewenza. "Obviously when we go into collective bargaining the employer tries to extract as much as they possibly can and we can try to preserve and enhance as much as we can."