Union President Lana Payne said cost-of-living adjustments and income security protections are likely to be among the top issues for Unifor members, who are facing high rates of inflation and long periods off-the-job as auto plants are retooled for electric vehicle production.
“People want to make sure they’re not falling behind, so I suspect you’re going to see those kinds of very basic economic issues being some of the priorities that we’re going to see at bargaining in August,” she told Automotive News Canada.
Payne said she could not delve too deeply into specifics because she did not want to presume the demands of members. Unifor’s internal process to identify priorities begins with its locals this winter, before widening to the union’s bargaining committees for each automaker, and representatives of the national union this spring and summer.
“They’re starting that work as we speak, to gather proposals from members and to really look at taking care of as much as possible the local bargaining issues before we get to the main bargaining table.”
Unifor represents approximately 22,000 hourly workers at Detroit Three assembly and powertrain plants in Canada. Most of these workers — with the notable exception of those at GM’s CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ont. — fall under the union’s key collective agreements with the Detroit Three. All three deals are set to expire Sept. 18.
PENSIONS A ‘PRIORITY’
Payne also highlighted several of the union’s priorities at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s 28th Annual Automotive Insights Symposium Jan. 12.
Pensions, she said at the event, will be on the agenda.
“I can guarantee you, when you go 15 years without making substantial changes, that this is something that will be a priority.”
None of the Detroit Three automakers were willing to discuss their priorities for bargaining.
GM Canada spokeswoman Jennifer Wright said the company is looking ahead to talks this year, but did not address whether the company has established any goals.
“We look forward to working with our Unifor partners to create a competitive labour contract for our Oshawa, St. Catharines and Woodstock operations,” she wrote in an email.
Stellantis spokeswoman LouAnn Gosselin, likewise, said the company is not yet ready to share its bargaining priorities.
Likewise, Steven Majer, senior director and HR business partner at Ford Canada, said the company values its partnership with Unifor. Ford aims to build on "our success in 2023 negotiations as we collectively deliver on our global Ford+ plan." he said in an emailed statement.
UAW, UNIFOR TALKS COINCIDE
In addition to talks in Canada, the three automakers will be sitting down to bargain with the United Auto Workers union this fall. It is the first time talks with the two unions representing Canadian and U.S. auto workers have coincided since before Unifor was formed in 2013.
Unifor is awaiting the results of UAW elections before engaging in earnest on possible coordination with its counterpart in the United States, Payne told Automotive News Canada.
“We’ll continue to have good communications with them, no matter who their new team is, and try to work together as best we can to deliver for all of our members coming out of bargaining this year.”
When it comes to dealing with the Detroit Three, Unifor will not be heading into talks spoiling for a fight, but will be tough when it needs to be, Payne, who was elected to head the union in August, said at the Chicago event.
“I never go into a round of bargaining — and I don’t think our committees do either, or our staff — thinking that this is going to end up in a dispute. I think that’s a wrong approach to take.”
Nevertheless, Payne added, talks are “always tough.”
“Let’s face it, these are some of the biggest corporations on the planet. This is not going to be a cakewalk.”