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Unifor says talks progressing but sides ‘far apart’ as Ford strike deadline nears

The union representing tens of thousands of auto workers in Canada says that talks are progressing between Ford and its bargaining committee but both sides remain far apart. The contract between Ford and Unifor members will expire at 11:59 p.m. Monday. If there is no deal in place, more than 5,000 people will be in a legal strike position.

Negotiations continue as UAW strike hits 4th day

A transport truck turns into the Ford entrance way.

The union representing tens of thousands of auto workers in Canada says that talks are progressing between Ford and its bargaining committee but both sides remain far apart.

The contract between Ford and Unifor members will expire at 11:59 p.m. Monday. If there is no deal in place, more than 5,000 people will be in a legal strike position.

Those members would join 13,000 autoworkers who went on strike after the United Auto Workers union (UAW) could not reach a deal with the Detroit Three last week.

Unifor officials are expected to provide an update on its negotiations Monday afternoon.

"As the deadline approaches, Unifor members at Ford Motor Company are advised to be prepared for all scenarios, including strike action," wrote Unifor's national president Lana Payne in an update to members.

"All Unifor members are required to report for their regularly scheduled shift unless otherwise directed by union officials."

The union has extended its contracts covering 14,000 autoworkers employed by Stellantis (parent company of Chrysler) and General Motors as it continues bargaining with Ford.

Unifor is seeking a deal that improves pensions, wages, EV transition support and secures additional investments with Ford. It will use that deal as the pattern for negotiations with Stellantis and General Motors.

In a statement on Monday afternoon, Rosemarie Pao, senior communications manager with Ford Canada, said the company was "hard at work at the bargaining table with Unifor to create a blueprint that leads our employees, our business, our customers, and our communities into the future.

"As Lana Payne said in her webcast last week, these discussions are best left at the bargaining table."

Parts makers preparing for impact

In a historic move, the UAW is targeting all three companies during its negotiations and as of midnight Thursday has members on strike at plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri that produce the Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler and Chevrolet Colorado.

UAW president Shawn Fain led a rally in Detroit on Friday that featured Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Fain is asking for a 40 per cent wage increase for workers over a four-year deal and the elimination of tiered wages that sees recently hired employees starting at lower rates than workers hired before 2007.

That strike is expected to have an impact on Canadian companies that make parts for those vehicles.

"You are definitely adjusting your production schedules today for this week," said Flavio Volpe, the president of Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association.

"As it grows, or it rotates, if its prolonged, we are going to see the companies with lines that support those businesses out of those lines."

Volpe said that companies have modelled into planning scenarios the potential for a strike in Canada.

"We have a good tradition here of having no work stoppage or if and when we do, a short work stoppage."

In an update to members last Thursday, Unifor said that they rejected two offers from Ford.

"Ford has made minimal improvement on pensions," said Shane Wark, Unifor assistant to the national officers.

"In fact, the movement was so insignificant the ERC [Unifor's bargaining committee responsible for pensions] rejected their proposal outright at the very moment it was received."

The company has also made "aggressive" demands on wages and wage grid improvements, representatives said.

Former national union leader on potential strike

Former Canadian Auto Workers national president Ken Lewenza Sr. said Unifor's priorities in these negotiations are a needed response to concessions he agreed to during the financial crisis of 2008 that saw Chrysler and General Motors file for bankruptcy.

"It's different that the companies are very profitable which gives us the ability to maximize our bargaining power," said Lewenza.

"You want to extract as much as you can because you may never get this economic opportunity again."

WATCH | Ken Lewenza Sr. explains what he think will happen if there is no contract at midnight

Ken Lewenza Sr., who served as president of Unifor's predecessor the Canadian Auto Workers union, discusses why these negotiations are important for more than autoworkers and what he thinks will happen when the strike deadline hits.

The UAW and Unifor have not been in the position to simultaneously strike the automakers in decades. Unifor held a summit with UAW earlier this year in Windsor to discuss bargaining and issued a letter of solidarity when UAW members went on strike last week.

Lewenza said he believes Unifor and the UAW will need to focus on advancing each other's objectives.

"I don't think it would make a lot of sense quite frankly for us to go out on strike, close down plants that could potentially go down by themselves over the next week or two weeks," said Lewenza.

Autoworkers by the numbers

According to Unifor, there are 19,690 members who work at the Detroit Three including:

  • 5,680 members with Ford with 3,400 employees in Oakville, Ont., and 1,900 in Windsor, Ont.
  • 5,780 members with General Motors with 3,100 working in Oshawa, Ont. and 1,100 in St. Catharines, Ont.
  • 8,230 members with Stellantis with 4,500 employees in Windsor and 3,200 people in Brampton, Ont.

The previous agreement was negotiated in 2020. Unifor has said that the auto industry employs 462,000 when including direct and indirect jobs.

Listen to an auto analyst break down the UAW strike and Unifor negotiations with the Detroit Three

Windsor Morning7:21Auto strike

Tom Venetis, an auto analyst in Toronto, speaks with CBC Windsor Morning host Nav Nanwa about looming auto strikes.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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