By on August 12, 2020

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.

[Image: BobNoah/Shutterstock]

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9 Comments on “Unifor Negotiations Kick Off This Week...”

  • avatar

    Looks like Elvis is alive and in Canada ?

  • avatar

    “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?”

    Awesome attitude while in the grips of a global pandemic. I suspect that particular viewpoint won’t be well received if that’s how they start negotiations.

  • avatar

    Canadian plants closed under UAW/CAW/Unifor
    GM: 9
    Ford: 6
    Chrysler/AMC: 2
    Studebaker: 1
    Willys: 1

    Canadian plants opened under UAW/CAW/Unifor
    Any: 0

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “The best the union can probably hope for in 2020 is not losing more Canadian jobs than absolutely necessary.”

      Yep. When the transplants look at this record, and realize the union is actually powerless to do anything but take their dues, they ask themselves why would we join that?

      Mr Dias can make speeches, but the only job he’s protecting is his own.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with that.

        And then again, the US “National Economic Policy” also drives how much American “producers of all types and kinds” are willing to outsource to another country or another continent.

        It used to be that US national economic policy outsourced anything and everything from soups to nuts, vehicles to drugs, and then some.

        I don’t think that’s the case today, and certainly not for four more years hence of the current administration.

        If the USMCA caused gastric distress….. that was only the beginning of the first term in office.

        It’s unsettling to think what lies ahead for the next four years considering everything that has been upended and unsettled over the past three and a half years.

        I recently heard Richard Trumpka criticizing the current administration about the China virus vis-a-vis unemployment but I think that such claptrap is baseless because China unleashed a biological weapon onto the planet with the hopes that China would emerge victorious.

        I would be surprised, all things considered, if more Canadian jobs are not lost by Jan 01, 2021. So look at the 10million+ jobs lost in the US due to the China virus, and those jobs will never be coming back because their employers collapsed and died financially.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Not quite correct, CAMI/GM Ingersoll opened in 1989.

      As for the others Studebaker remained in Canada after it closed all production in the USA. So the union can’t be blame for that.

      And non-union auto plants in Canada have also closed, for example the Hyundai plant in Bromont Quebec, after only 4 years.

      You also forgot:
      Volvo in Nova Scotia, closed due to NAFTA.
      Bricklin in New Brunswick
      Volkswagen in Barrie Ontario (primarily wheel/rim manufacturing)
      Durant in Toronto (the Depression ended that facility)

      Dias and UNIFOR are fighting a ‘holding action’. Unless the Canadian government becomes more protectionist, then manufacturing here will suffer. We cannot compete with 2nd and 3rd world nations on labour costs.

      The closure of the Oshawa (GM) and St Thomas (Ford) plants demonstrate that producing a quality product, efficiently cannot save workers jobs. Oshawa in particular won numerous quality and efficiency awards.

  • avatar

    Sounds like every recent BMW.

    At this point I’d probably buy any other brand. BMW used to have a reason to exist. They’ve been dead and only half special for a decade now.

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