Unifor Negotiations Kick Off This Week
Unifor will take on the Detroit automakers this week, with the Canadian union undoubtedly planning to do everything within its power to keep as many jobs as it can manage. Unfortunately, that might be easier said than done, what with vehicle demand suppressed by months of lockdowns and an associated economic recession. Despite the positivity surrounding Wall Street, regular folks aren’t in the mood to buy lately.
No matter. Union negotiations are always famously contentious anyway. Corporations want rock-bottom prices for top-shelf work and labor associations always have to ask for more to rationalize their existence. Unifor President Jerry Dias noted that he’s ready for whatever the Big Three throw at him, though we doubt it will include totally sweet offers for line workers. The best the union can probably hope for in 2020 is not losing more Canadian jobs than absolutely necessary.
General Motors’ Oshawa Car Assembly produced its last Sierra pickup in 2019, while Ford is rumored to be pulling out of the Oakville Assembly Complex once the current generation Edge and Lincoln Nautilus wrap.
Meanwhile, Fiat Chrysler has been scaling back minivan production in beautiful Windsor, Ontario. It’s also killing the Dodge Grand Caravan (but keeping the model name alive for Canadian customers). The bigger concern should be its Brampton facility, which manufacturers the Dodge Charger, Challenger, and Chrysler 300. Considering the brand is now officially merging with PSA Group, its French partner may have some new ideas on the automaker’s product lineup and factory sites.
Dias remains unconcerned, however. According to a recent interview with Automotive News, he’s sure he’s the man to finalize a sweet deal before the existing contracts expire on September 21st. “When the companies are doing incredibly well and making money hand over fist, they come to the table as if they’re losing money and because their argument is always about whipsawing us against the UAW and the UAW whipsawing against us,” Dias said. “There’s always the threat, so who cares?”
Unless that was supposed to be rhetorical, probably anyone with their job on the line.
The union will likely spend a few weeks deciding which automaker it wants to push the hardest and use that as a basis for negotiations with the other two. But that’s going to be tricky with COVID-19 forcing all manner of restrictions on how factories function and how the bargaining talks will proceed. Despite being scheduled to commence in Toronto on Wednesday, much of the negotiations will be done remotely. Union members will likewise be required to register for online contract ratification and strike authorization voting, since Ontario has placed restrictions on in-person voting.
From Automotive News:
Long-term uncertainty about the pandemic and economic recovery could hurt Unifor in its bid to secure product commitments, analysts said. The union also faces headwinds from 2019 contracts between the companies and the UAW, which leave Unifor fewer options to work with for production mandates. And as the November presidential election draws near, the Detroit automakers might come under pressure to avoid major investments outside of the United States.
“This is a tough hand to play,” said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Dias, whose union has sparred in recent years with GM, said he is a “realist” who understands the challenges the industry faces during the pandemic and economic downturn. But Unifor will not change its approach to negotiations, he said, adding that he was optimistic the union would secure gains for its members.
“It’ll be my opportunity to tell them exactly what’s on my mind and how I expect negotiations to proceed and what my drop-dead positions are,” Dias explained.
For his sake, let’s hope they’re receptive and plan on keeping things in Canada for a bit longer. With vehicle sales cooling, pandemic panic mucking up factory protocols and several facilities having questionable futures, Dias and company are probably in for a real rumble. The fun starts at 9:30 AM (Eastern) with representatives from FCA. Unifor plans to hold a press conference after speaking with the other two manufacturers around 3:00 PM. That spot exists primarily so the union can flex to the media before anything really happens.
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