Unifor, Ford agree to extend talks past strike deadline
Unifor represents 5,600 Ford workers in Canada
The union representing thousands of autoworkers in Canada says a strike deadline for Ford workers that passed at midnight will be extended another 24 hours as the union considers a new offer.
"The union received a substantive offer from the employer minutes before the deadline and bargaining is continuing throughout the night," the union said in a statement issued at around 1:40 a.m. ET Tuesday.
"Unifor members should continue to maintain strike readiness."
Earlier on Monday night, Unifor's leader said Ford workers will go on strike if a deal was not reached by 11:59 p.m. ET.
At around 7.30 p.m. ET, Unifor National President Lana Payne said some progress had been made but the union wanted to see more on pensions and wages.
"If there is a strike this will be a total strike," Payne said. "Every single one of Unifor's 5,600 members at Ford in Canada will be on picket lines," she said.
Payne said that a lot can happen in the final hours, but "we know where we stand here and we are not wavering from our core priorities, especially pension improvements."
In a statement following the extension of negotiations, Ford Canada's vice president of human resources, Steven Majer, said the company would "continue to work collaboratively with Unifor to create a blueprint for the automotive industry that supports a vibrant and sustainable future in Canada."
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 of southwestern Ontario, 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."
If a strike is called, those Unifor members would join 13,000 autoworkers who went on strike after the United Auto Workers union (UAW) could not reach a deal with the Detroit Three last week.
The union has extended its contracts covering 14,000 autoworkers employed by Stellantis (parent company of Chrysler) and General Motors as it continues bargaining with Ford.
Unifor is seeking a deal that improves pensions, wages, EV transition support and secures additional investments with Ford. It will use that deal as the pattern for negotiations with Stellantis and General Motors.
Parts makers preparing for impact
In a historic move, the UAW is targeting all three companies during its negotiations, and as of midnight Thursday has members on strike at plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri that produce the Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler and Chevrolet Colorado.
UAW president Shawn Fain led a rally in Detroit on Friday that featured Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Fain is asking for a 40 per cent wage increase for workers over a four-year deal and the elimination of tiered wages that sees recently hired employees starting at lower rates than workers hired before 2007.
Any strike is expected to have an impact on Canadian companies that make parts for those vehicles.
"You are definitely adjusting your production schedules today for this week," said Flavio Volpe, president of Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association.
"As it grows, or it rotates, if its prolonged, we are going to see the companies with lines that support those businesses out of those lines."
Volpe said companies have modelled into planning scenarios the potential for a strike in Canada.
"We have a good tradition here of having no work stoppage or if and when we do, a short work stoppage."
In an update to members last Thursday, Unifor said they rejected two offers from Ford.
"Ford has made minimal improvement on pensions," said Shane Wark, Unifor assistant to the national officers.
"In fact, the movement was so insignificant the ERC [Unifor's bargaining committee responsible for pensions] rejected their proposal outright at the very moment it was received."
The company has also made "aggressive" demands on wages and wage grid improvements, representatives said.
Former national union leader on potential strike
Former Canadian Auto Workers national president Ken Lewenza Sr. said Unifor's priorities in these negotiations are a needed response to concessions he agreed to during the financial crisis of 2008 that saw Chrysler and General Motors file for bankruptcy.
"It's different that the companies are very profitable which gives us the ability to maximize our bargaining power," said Lewenza.
"You want to extract as much as you can because you may never get this economic opportunity again."
WATCH | Ken Lewenza Sr. explains what he think will happen if there is no contract at midnight
The UAW and Unifor have not been in the position to simultaneously go on strike in decades. Unifor held a summit with UAW earlier this year in Windsor to discuss bargaining and issued a letter of solidarity when UAW members went on strike last week.
Lewenza said he believes Unifor and the UAW will need to focus on advancing each other's objectives.
"I don't think it would make a lot of sense quite frankly for us to go out on strike, close down plants that could potentially go down by themselves over the next week or two weeks," said Lewenza.
Autoworkers by the numbers
According to Unifor, 19,690 members work at the Detroit Three in Ontario, including:
- 5,680 members with Ford with 3,400 employees in Oakville and 1,900 in Windsor.
- 5,780 members with General Motors with 3,100 working in Oshawa and 1,100 in St. Catharines.
- 8,230 members with Stellantis with 4,500 employees in Windsor and 3,200 people in Brampton.
The previous agreement was negotiated in 2020. Unifor has said the auto industry employs 462,000 when including direct and indirect jobs.