Standing alongside and sharing a microphone with Stellantis COO North America Mark Stewart at the Brampton Assembly Plant, Unifor President Lana Payne signalled that Canada’s auto union will take a different approach to this summer’s contract negotiations than its union counterpart in the United States.
Payne and Stewart jointly toured the Toronto-area plant, which produces the Chrysler 300, and the Dodge Charger and Challenger muscle cars on July 21, shaking hands with production staff and posing for pictures.
The event came three weeks before Unifor formally launches contract negotiations with Stellantis, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, and its chummy atmosphere was in stark contrast with recent tough talk from the United Auto Workers in the United States. UAW President Shawn Fain, tossed aside a decades-old handshake tradition with Detroit Three CEOs last week, saying he’d shake hands with the company executives when they “come to the table with a deal that reflects the needs of the workers who make this industry run.” The stance is consistent with the adversarial tone Fain set this spring when he described bargaining as a “war” against employers who are unwilling to give union members their “fair share.”
Payne told reporters in Brampton that she respects the “great job” the UAW is doing representing its members, but Unifor is a different union and intends to take a different approach.
“Unifor has its own job to do. We have our own members to represent. We have a different situation in Canada. … We’re going to chart our own course in this bargaining, and we’ll chart our own course as the union that we are.”
Unifor represents about 8,200 hourly workers at Stellantis plants in Canada, 5,700 at Ford and 5,800 at GM.
In 2020, the union took the unusual step of negotiating three- as opposed to four-year contracts with the three automakers, which put collective agreements for auto workers in both Canada and the United States on track to expire simultaneously for the first time since 1999.
On July 21, Payne said the decision to reset the clock on bargaining back in 2020 was “not necessarily” to have talks overlap with the UAW, but to get in ahead of the electric vehicle transition.
“We actually wanted to get to the bargaining table before the retooling of our plants happens, and to give us a chance to have another kick at the can and make sure that we were getting everything in place that we knew needed to be in place.”
Unifor has pointed to higher wages, improved pensions, and support during the retooling process as several of its key priorities for this round of bargaining.
Payne said the union also hopes to “wiggle” more investment dollars out of Stellantis to add to the red-hot Canadian auto industry’s running tally of recent spending.
Stewart offered few specifics, but said Stellantis is eager to get to the bargaining table, and “absolutely” willing to engage on union priorities such as higher wages for workers facing steep levels of inflation.
“We all need to be successful together, and that means everybody continuing to have great wages, great benefits and a great place to work.”
Stewart also pointed to the recent impasse with the federal government over the company’s joint venture battery cell plant in Windsor, Ont. as a building block for Stellantis’ relationship with Unifor.
He credited the union for lending assistance with the intergovernmental subsidy deal that allowed construction on the plant to restart, and said it is just the latest example of how the company and union are “finding ways through hurdles together.”
“We’ll get it done at the [bargaining] table as well.”