OPINION: Tale of two negotiations
By Mario Cywinski
Every few years the domestic automotive industry in Canada (mainly Ontario) goes through a round of negotiations with Unifor, the union that represents some workers at the Detroit three automakers (Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis). Each round of negotiations is different, based on the outside forces with the economy and government, and how plants are doing (number of products, shifts).
Sometime the negotiations between the OEMs and Unifor can be real fights, with threats of strikes, and posturing back and forth. Which we are seeing currently with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Detroit three in the US (more on that later).
Each negotiation period, Unifor picks a target company to begin with, and from that they conduct pattern negotiations with the other two manufacturers. This time Ford of Canada was the target OEM. While a strike deadline was set, it was extended, and an agreement was ironed out. After a ratification vote, the deal was made official at the end of September.
A few of the specifics of the deal include a $10,000 ratification bonus for full-time permanent workers, with a $4,000 bonus for temporary workers, a 15 per cent wage increase over the life of the deal (three years), increases to retirement programs, and reduction of new hire wage progression (by up to 50 per cent). This deal which runs until September 20, 2026, covers over 5,600 unionized workers at Ford facilities in Canada.
Unifor has announced that it will be negotiating with General Motors Canada next. It covers 4,300 workers at the company’s Oshawa, St. Catharines, and Woodstock locations. Expect the agreement that was made with Ford to be the basis for the agreement with GM. Once those negotiations are done, Unifor will move on to Stellantis.
UPDATE: Workers at GM Canada plants briefly went on strike; however, in under 24 hours, a deal was reached with Unifor. The deal was similar to the one signed with Ford. A larger number of GM employees voted in favour of the deal (over 80 per cent), than Ford. Unifor has now began negotiations with Stellantis, and set a strike deadline of October 29 at 11:59 p.m.
Interestingly, only 54 per cent of Ford unionized membership voted in favour of the agreement. A low number for what looks like a good deal for workers. However, with the unions making concessions in previous negotiations (during COVID-19, and when two of the three OEMs were facing bankruptcy), this time it seems that is not going to be the case.
Across the border in the US, the Detroit three are facing a much harder negotiation with the UAW. As with their Canadian counterparts, the unions are looking to make up for the concessions made in previous negotiations.
Workers at three plants in the Detroit area went on strike, when negotiations broke down, and now that has spread to many states, and as of this writing, the UAW is planning on expanding the work action even further. Even President Joe Biden has weighed in on the negotiations, telling workers to fight for what they deserve. Reports have said that the UAW is looking for a 40 per cent pay increase.
The UAW action is already having outside effects, as Ford Motor Company has paused the building of an electric vehicle battery plant in Michigan. While experts in Canada are expecting to see supply chain issues for Canadian Detroit three production, if the strike south of the border drags on.
UPDATE: The work action continues into its sixth week in the United States, with 46,000 workers on strike, and additional plants being added regularly.
Originally published in the fall issue of Plant magazine. Updates are information added since publication.