Unifor members give strong strike mandate as Big 3 auto contract talks ramp up
Unifor began negotiations with the Big 3 on Aug. 12 in Toronto
Unifor members at Detroit's Big Three have voted in favour of strike action should it be necessary to secure "fair" contract settlements, according to a news release from the union Monday.
On the weekend, a majority of votes from union members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (98.4 per cent voted in favour), Ford Motor Company (96.4 per cent voted in favour) and General Motors (95.3 per cent in favour) showed that members will allow their bargaining committees to move forward with strike action.
"Our members voted overwhelmingly to support their bargaining committees and our bargaining priorities including, job security, product commitments and economic gains for all members" Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in a news release.
"We will continue to push our agenda at the bargaining table, but remind government that they have an active role to play in securing our auto industry's future. A future made in Canada."
When asked by CBC News Monday whether he sees a strike happening, Dias said "Who knows. Hope not but it's certainly not out of the question."
Unifor said that on or around Labour Day it plans to announce the company designated as the strike target and said that it will continue negotiations with that company until a settlement is reached.
Dias said one of the companies is already standing out for him, but he wouldn't specify which one. He said they will select a company by Sept. 8 and hope that a settlement can be reached no later than the strike deadline at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 21.
"It really is about the company that's prepared and understands what our economic needs are…[and] understands strategically that it's in their best interest to have a footprint here in Canada for the short and long term," Dias said.
On Aug. 12, Unifor began formal contract talks with the Detroit Big Three in Toronto. According to Dias, these talks will intensify over the next week.
Loss of third shift at FCA's Windsor Assembly Plant
Earlier this summer, FCA eliminated the third shift at the Windsor Assembly Plant affecting 1,500 jobs and hundreds more at feeder plants. Dias said that all of his conversations so far have included bringing back the third shift, noting that it is a "priority."
FCA employee Nick Dimitriou, who has worked with the company for nearly 26 years, said he really wants to see work return to the region so that those who lost their jobs can come back.
"[There's] nothing worse than planning for things in the future with your family and those being held back because of the lack of labour, so I'd like to get everybody back to the workforce," he told CBC News Monday.
Dimitriou said he has faith that the union will bargain well and bring new product to the plant, but Grey Layson, the digital and mobile editor of Automotive News Canada, says securing that new product will be a big challenge for the region.
"Getting a new product is difficult because you're up against the southern United States, which is a low cost jurisdiction when it comes to manufacturing, you're up against Mexico, which again is a low cost jurisdiction for manufacturing, so everyone wants new product all the time," he said.
For Windsor to win out, it will have to be a new, low-volume product that doesn't need to be mass-produced. It's not impossible, said Layson. It just needs to be the right fit.
"Are you going to get something that sells hundreds of thousands of units per year? Probably not, but you're just looking to fill one shift right now," he said.
FCA recently invested $2 billion to re-tool the plant to roll out the Pacifica minivan, which, Layson said, means the company won't just close the Windsor plant altogether.
"The question is, can they increase productivity and make that viable for the automaker and make money for the automaker?" he said.
Covid-19 won't impact negotiations, says union
The contract Dias is negotiating will affect unionized workers for the next four years.
The existing agreements — applicable to the some 20,000 Canadian workers at the three automakers which Unifor represents — expire on Sept. 21.
At the start of the negotiations, Dias said he wouldn't let COVID-19 be an "excuse" for manufacturers going forward as the union tries to secure new product commitments and job security for plants in Ontario cities Windsor, Oakville, Brampton and St. Catharines.
"We have a very impressive agenda in front of us but we're up for the task," he said.