Unifor, Detroit Three kick off contract talks amid inflation, EV transition pressures
By Ian Bickis
Unifor national president Lana Payne emphasized that autoworkers expect to make significant wage and benefit gains as the union kicked off contract talks with the Detroit Three on Thursday.
“I made it very clear to the companies today that our members’ expectations are very high. Indeed, all workers’ expectations throughout Canada are very high,” she said at a news conference in Toronto.
“And for good reason. Profits are up and so is the cost of living.”
Union focusing on Ford
Unifor will likely focus on Ford Motor Co. over General Motors or Stellantis as the lead automaker during this round of three-year contract talks, said Payne, as the company is most advanced and forthcoming on its electric vehicle transition plans and other negotiations. No final decision has been made yet though, she said.
The union usually picks one automaker to concentrate bargaining on, with whatever terms agreed to generally carrying over to the other two.
The official handshakes Thursday that started negotiations between the union and the three automakers come as the rising cost of living and the transition to electric vehicles are top of mind. The twin pressures facing more than 18,000 autoworkers covered by the agreements make this round of bargaining especially important, said Payne.
She said the union made significant pension concessions, including a shift toward defined contributions, when the automakers were on the brink of bankruptcy after the global financial crisis and they’ll be fighting to restore some of what was lost.
Autoworkers are also still feeling the aftershocks of the pandemic with part shortages and supply bottlenecks leading to downtime and making life more precarious, said Payne.
“It’s happening against the backdrop of a stunning and staggering financial performance of the Detroit Three, with major profits reported in every quarter.”
Balancing compensation, large-scale investments
Automakers emphasized the need to balance compensation expectations against the large-scale investments needed to transition the industry to an electric future.
Steven Majer, Ford Canada’s vice-president of human resources, said in a statement that the company and union will have to find the right balance between investing for the future and the sharing of profits.
“We value our partnership with Unifor and have important work to do together as we create a blueprint for the Canadian automotive industry.”
Stellantis said during negotiations it would focus on ensuring future competitiveness along with good benefits and wage increases. The company, which owns brands such as Jeep and Chrysler, said that both it and the union need to find creative solutions that meet worker needs while maintaining efficient and productive workplaces.
General Motors said it looks forward to working with Unifor to build a competitive future that also recognizes its employees’ contributions to shared success.
The last round of contract negotiations in 2020 led to billions of dollars of investment commitments from the three automakers, while Unifor says increased momentum on the transition to electric vehicles has brought total promised spending across all of Canada’s auto sector to around $25 billion in the past three years.
Talks are expected to stretch into September, with the existing contracts set to expire Sept. 18.
The negotiations are taking place at the same time as the United Auto Workers in the U.S. are also in contract negotiations with automakers. Payne said the two unions would keep an open dialogue but that Unifor would be charting its own course through bargaining.
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