Unifor today opened talks on new labour contracts with Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, kicking off a round of negotiations the union has framed as critical to the future of auto manufacturing in Canada.
Details of the proposals were not immediately known, though Unifor President Jerry Dias said Ford and FCA were more open to addressing union’s hard line on new investment than GM, with whom it opened talks on Wednesday. While describing talks with GM as “respectful,” discussions with Ford and FCA were more “productive” and “constructive,” he said.
"They understand that investment decisions are going to be a part of 2016 negotiations,” Dias said at a press conference today in Toronto, while noting that Ford and FCA have yet to commit new products to any plant.
Unifor has repeatedly said its top priority in negotiations with the automakers will be securing new product and investments in Ford’s Windsor engine plants, in FCA’s Brampton assembly plant, which produces the Chrysler 300, Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger, and at GM’s Oshawa assembly plant, which makes four models.
“The Canadian footprint drop is going to stop as a result of 2016 bargaining,” Dias said.
The Detroit 3 automakers’ current labour contracts with Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, expire on Sept. 19. Dias said today that the union would pick a target company to establish pattern bargaining on Sept. 6.
Dias said the top priority for Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, in negotiations with Ford would be to secure new investment at the Windsor engine plants. Canada missed out on new Ford engine production there last year when Ford said it would build a new plant in Mexico after failing to reach a deal with federal and provincial governments.
Steve Majer, Ford of Canada vice president of human resources, said in a statement that the automaker is “ready to overcome the challenges” it faces in Canada.
“We approach the process with a shared goal -- to pursue long-term viability for Canadian auto manufacturing,” Majer said. “The global landscape has significantly changed in four years, and through our discussions we’ll need to find innovative ways to be competitive and support our employees’ way of life.”
Ford’s Windsor engine plants produce 6.8-liter V10 engines and 5.0-liter V-8 engines.
Dias said the union’s top goal with FCA is to secure new investment at its Brampton assembly plant, which has one of the automaker’s oldest paint shops.
The plant is seen by Unifor as being less at risk of potential closure than GM’s Oshawa plant or Ford’s Windsor facilities. But FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne made headlines earlier this year when he said the 300 could be made on the same platform as the Pacifica minivan, potentially opening the door for production to move away from Brampton.
“I don’t take his comments, candidly, as a threat,” Dias said, while noting that the union will push for new investment to ease concerns among workers in Brampton.
In a statement, FCA Canada said its history of collabouration with the union has “helped strengthen” its position in the market since 2009, resulting in $3 billion in investments and the hiring of 2,200 hourly employees in that time.
“As we head into these negotiations, we look forward to continuing that partnership while reaching a labour agreement that will sustain the company’s competitiveness over the long term,” the statement reads in part.
Echoing comments he made Wednesday, Dias said Unifor is in a position to secure investments from the automakers thanks to their relative financial strength and due to federal and provincial governments that he says are more willing to work with automakers to secure auto investment in Canada.
He also reiterated the union’s opposition to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he said would make Canada, already facing competitive pressure from Mexico and the southern U.S., less attractive to automakers.
“We have spent a lot of time talking with the Detroit 3 and it's safe to say none of them are in favor of the TPP,” he said.