- Land Rover Discovery Sport, Range Rover Evoque: New features coming
- Mobileye, Dubai’s Habtoor partner on self-driving taxis
- Acura NSX Type R, convertible reportedly coming in 2021
- GM cites evidence of offshore accounts, wants FCA racketeering lawsuit revived
- Cadillac and Buick boost GM’s return to growth in China
The Unifor union selected Ford Motor Co. as the target company for this year’s contract talks in Canada, less than two weeks before its pacts with the Detroit 3 expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Sept. 21.
Unifor, which represents about 17,000 Canadian autoworkers under those contracts, will look to pattern deals with General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles after the agreement it negotiates with Ford.
With Ford, Unifor seeks long-term product commitments at its plant in Oakville, Ontario, following a report from the forecasting firm AutoForecast Solutions that stated the factory would not build the next-generation Ford Edge. That would leave the plant without a production mandate beyond 2023. Ford has not confirmed the report.
“Wherever my biggest problem is, I’d like to attack it first, and that’s what I’m doing,” Unifor President Jerry Dias told Automotive News Canada on Tuesday morning, ahead of a scheduled 11 a.m. ET news conference.
The Oakville plant, which currently builds the Edge and Lincoln Nautilus crossovers, was subject to job cuts in 2019 and 2020 as Ford adjusted to a weakening North American new-vehicle market and ended production of the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT crossovers.
While Oakville accounts for the bulk of Unifor members employed by Ford, contracts also expire for about 1,700 workers at the automaker’s engine plants in Windsor, Ontario, as well as workers at distribution centers in Brampton and Edmonton.
Ford plans to close its Brampton parts distribution center and split the work currently done by about 200 employees there between new locations in the eastern and western parts of Ontario, Automotive News Canada reported in August.
While acknowledging that getting Ford to agree to new production for Oakville could be tough, Dias said he has had “good conversations” with the automaker thus far. Negotiations formally began with all three automakers on Aug. 12.
“I’m not convinced that they want a big fight with us like we had with General Motors and Oshawa,” Dias said.
Unifor in late 2018 and early 2019 protested the end of vehicle assembly at GM’s Oshawa, Ontario, plant with a cross-border media campaign, as well as with a temporary blockade of the company’s Canadian headquarters and other measures.
The plant now builds aftermarket parts for GM, which was also the subject of a single-plant strike by Unifor in 2017, when Unifor struck the automaker’s CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, where the Chevrolet Equinox is built. That plant is not part of negotiations this year. It’s on a different contract schedule.
Dias said he has also been in contact with representatives from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, as well as with representatives for Ontario Premier Doug Ford and other officials at both levels. He said it would be crucial that the governments come to the table with major incentives for the automakers if Canada hopes to remain a player in auto assembly.
“We are at a critical point in the history of the industry in this country,” Dias said.
Oakville is one of three assembly plants at which Unifor seeks new production mandates. The other two, in Brampton and Windsor, are owned by FCA.
Unifor wants new production alongside the Chrysler Pacifica, Voyager and Grand Caravan minivans for the FCA Windsor plant, where the third shift was cut earlier this year amid sinking sales in the segment. It also hopes for clarity on FCA’s long-term plans for Brampton Assembly, where the aging but profitable Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger muscle cars are built. The plant also assembles the Chrysler 300.
No GM assembly plant will be a part of this year’s discussions, following the end of vehicle assembly in Oshawa in 2019. GM’s CAMI Assembly plant is on a separate contract that expires in 2021. The talks will cover workers at the new Oshawa aftermarket parts operation, as well as those at the St. Catharines, Ont., propulsion plant.
In addition to product demands, Unifor is seeking a reduction in the 10-year wage grow-in for workers, as well as general wage increases.
The wage issue was a divisive one for Unifor Ford members during 2016’s contract talks. The 2016 contract included the 10-year grow-in period’s continuation, sparking the ire of many workers in Oakville.
The contract was narrowly ratified thanks to overwhelming support from workers at the Windsor engine plants, offsetting a majority of Oakville workers who voted against it.
Unifor members last week voted to authorize a strike should one be needed. About 96 per cent of Ford workers voted in favor.
This story will be updated.