Anxious autoworkers ready to strike as Unifor, Ford extend bargaining

Company and union agreed to extend deadline to 11:59 p.m. Tuesday

Image | Unifor Strike picket

Caption: Darby McCloskey said that members at Ford in Canada are prepared and ready to strike if Unifor leadership decides it is necessary. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Darby McCloskey was sitting inside Unifor's union hall alongside anxious autoworkers prepared to picket at Ford's operations in Windsor, Ont., as the midnight strike deadline passed.
Earlier on Monday night, Unifor National President Lana Payne told her nearly 5,700 members who work at Ford that all of them would strike at each location if a deal could not be reached.
But a last-minute offer from Ford was substantive enough for Payne to announce a 24-hour extension to the strike deadline, pushing negotiations toward an 11:59 p.m. deadline for Tuesday.
McCloskey, who has stacks of strike signs packed inside the bed of his pickup truck, said there's a lot of expectations that the deal members vote on will be one of the best they have seen.
"I have that much confidence in our bargaining team that they are going to be bringing us back one hell of a contract," said McCloskey, who has been at the bargaining table to reach deals for automotive companies in Windsor and is now the financial secretary for Unifor Local 200.

Unifor outlines plans ahead of potential strike

McCloskey doesn't take this kind of job action lightly. He was part of the last picket line outside of Ford, when members went on strike in 1990.
"If we were far apart, we'd be out on strike," he said.
McCloskey noted there was disappointment from some members after hearing about the agreed upon extension.
"To be honest with you, they were a little upset that they didn't go out," he said.
He said that shows that members, who voted nearly unanimously in favour of a strike mandate, are serious about getting a contract that improves on the priorities listed by Unifor: better pensions, increased wages, job security as the industry transitions to electric vehicles and more investments.


Caption: Darby McCloskey walks into the Windsor union hall with a picket sign he's ready to hand out to members at Ford if there's a strike. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"If we're this close and they extend it we have to have something that's good for everybody."
Payne said on Monday night that if a deal is not reached by deadline, members would be on pickets lines at all of Ford Canada's operations.
"If there is a strike this will be a total strike."
That's in contrast to the strike strategy the United Auto Workers are taking in the United States. UAW has had 13,000 members on strike at three plants in three states operated by Chrysler parent company Stellantis, General Motors and Ford since Sept. 15.
Ford's biggest Canadian workforce is Oakville, Ont., in the Greater Toronto Area, where the Ford Edge and Lincoln Nautilus SUVs are made, and in the Windsor region, where it has two engine plants.
The plants build engines for F-series trucks and one manufactures the Ford Mustang engine.
The company also has a small presence in Leduc, Alta., as well as Casselman, Paris and Bramalea, Ont.
"Ours is a small but highly consequential footprint for Ford operations in North America," Payne said. "And this is our leverage and we will use it."
While negotiations are taking place with Ford, Unifor is ultimately seeking new collective agreements for members employed by each of the Detroit Three automakers. A Ford deal will become the template for negotiations with the other two in what's known as pattern bargaining.

UAW strike adds new dynamic to Unifor's bargaining

UAW said that it will expand its strike strategy if there are not serious improvements made to the offers sent by the Detroit Three companies by noon on Friday.
Having the strike action occurring in the United States at the same time as bargaining in Canada could create higher expectations for Unifor members, according to a labour expert from York University in Toronto.
"I think it's going to be very unlikely that autoworkers in Canada are going to take an agreement that doesn't also have significant wage gains if the UAW is already on the way to making some significant gains," said Steven Tufts.
While Unifor has refused to get into specific details about negotiations, the UAW has been vocal about it's push to get members a 36 per cent wage increase over four years.
"You have a very militant U.S. leadership which has been working and organizing members to make this almost a generational agreement," said Tufts.

Media Video | Canadian autoworkers unlikely to take deal without 'significant' gains, expert says

Caption: Steven Tufts of York University speaks about landscape around the labour movement right now, saying there's a trend toward more job action better deals for workers.

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Stephanie Ross, director of the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University, said that Unifor has significant leverage but that it's not clear if it's enough to move Ford on the outlined priorities.
Ross, like Tufts, believes members might see this as their moment to use that leverage for big improvements.
"Some may feel now is the time to fight, an opening they've not had for two decades at least," said Ross.
Ross also pointed out the pressure Unifor is now under after extending the negotiations to bring back a deal that members will ratify.
"Unifor members in general are riled up, with three rejected tentative agreements in the last few months (Windsor Salt, Metro, and St. Lawrence Seaway). That plus the role the UAW's militancy is playing means at least some members' expectations may be quite high."