Fresh off a tight ratification vote at Ford Motor Co. of Canada, Unifor’s auto bargaining committee is unlikely to face the same level of pushback from members at General Motors of Canada, if the union can lock in its bargaining pattern with the automaker, labour experts say.
The difference with GM, said Stephanie Ross, an associate professor of labour studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., is in the plant demographics.
Unlike the veteran workforces at Ford’s Oakville and Windsor operations, staffers at GM’s Oshawa Assembly Plant, which reopened in 2020 after a brief closure, are relatively young and relatively new to the company, she said.
“Most are quite low in seniority, so they’re on that grow-in tier. If the Ford pattern is established there, they’re going to benefit from it quite significantly.”
The contract will grant longtime production workers 19- per-cent hourly wage increases over the course of the deal, while starting wages will increase 28.5 per cent by year-three. The agreement also shortens the grow-in timeline for new workers to four from eight years, meaning staff that currently have one year of seniority will climb the wage grid quicker, seeing their hourly wages rise 73 per cent by the end of the contract.
APPEALING TO GM OSHAWA?
With the wage gains “bottom-loaded in a certain sense,” Ross said the deal should appeal to the newer set of workers in Oshawa, who represent 3,100 of the overall 4,300 GM Canada workers whose contracts are up this year.
Brendan Sweeney, managing director of the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing, said with most workers at GM having started at the automaker in the last couple years, the overnight wage gains will be life changing.
“They’re getting a four- or five-dollar [per hour] pay increase once they sign. That’s material. That changes their lives.”
The reception may not be quite the same in St. Catharines, which employs about 1,100 other hourly GM workers, but with Oshawa making up the majority of the company’s Canadian workforce, Sweeney forecasts that a ratification vote for a deal comparable to Ford’s would sail through ratification convincingly.
Before the union’s bargaining committee can think about ratification, however, it needs to leverage its Ford contract into a deal with GM.
That process is always a “fight,” said Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work and former economist for Unifor.
“It’s never a rubber stamp. The companies are always going to push back and say that some of the things that were negotiated with Ford do not apply to us. There’s always a fight to win the pattern.”
Unifor set Oct. 9 as its bargaining deadline last week, dialing up the pressure on the automaker to meet its demands or face a possible strike.
When it comes to ratification, Stanford said members are the “judges of what they expect and what they think is attainable,” but with a good precedent set with Ford, “you have to be careful what you wish for.”
“If the principle of pattern bargaining is thrown out, those other two companies [GM and Stellantis] are going to come charging. And at the end of the day, you could certainly end up with something that’s worse than the Ford deal, not better.”