Ford’s plan to invest nearly $2 billion in its Canadian facilities and turn the Oakville, Ont., assembly plant into an electric vehicle hub beginning in 2025 is undoubtedly historic for this country’s auto sector.
As Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, told me on Tuesday, the investment plan “stands alone as potentially the best news of the last 10 years” for auto manufacturing in Canada. It could bolster the supply chain and make the assembly of EVs in Canada more viable or even attractive to other automakers in the future.
And most importantly for workers in Oakville, it shows that Ford has plans — big plans — for the factory beyond 2023, when production of the Ford Edge crossover is expected to end, casting doubt over the plant’s future.
But it’s not a done deal yet. Ford’s tentative three-year contract with Unifor still needs to be ratified by union members. Many of them will be interested in learning more details of Ford’s plan, as well as any changes to wages, pensions and benefits.
“The company doesn’t just give this stuff away,” says Kristin Dziczek, vice-president of industry, labour and economics at the Center for Automotive Research.
So far, we know little about what the union agreed to on economics. Unifor President Jerry Dias, in a Tuesday news conference, said he was “very pleased” with what he called “positive changes” to the 10-year wage grow-in. He would not elaborate, saying the union would first discuss details with its members.
Changes could prove to be critical to winning over members, particularly younger employees who have long been opposed to the 10-year grow-in – a concession Unifor agreed to in the wake of the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler. For proof, look no further than the 2016 ratification vote, when a majority of Oakville workers rejected the tentative contract, in large part, because it maintained the 10-year wage grid. (The contract was ratified due to overwhelming support from workers at Ford’s Windsor, Ont., engine plants, which received new investment.)
It’s possible we won’t know more until Sunday morning, when Unifor makes its contract highlights sheet available to members shortly before a virtual ratification meeting that will include questions about wages.
And expect there to be questions about pensions, which could also be key toward securing support. Dias acknowledged that fewer workers will be needed under the Oakville EV manufacturing plan, which involves a $1.8-billion retooling in 2024 and the assembly of five electric vehicles in the plant by 2028, with the first being built in 2025.
He expects retirements will account for the smaller headcount, so I anticipate members nearing retirement age will make sure their pensions are secure before voting to ratify.
Union leaders have a major investment commitment that they can tout to win support from their members. That alone may be more than enough for ratification.
But many workers will likely want satisfying answers on economics before casting a vote to ratify. We’ll know soon enough if Unifor has them.