Canadian Auto Workers Look to Strike If Negotiations Stall

The COVID-19 has had an impact on sales, but Unifor President Jerry Dias says workers are more concerned about planning for the future of the industry.

Canadian auto workers say they’ll begin a nationwide work stoppage September 22nd if new collective bargaining deals with US car companies cannot be reached.

“Our members are demanding products, they’re demanding pay increases and frankly it’s fair in today’s market.” — Jerry Dias, Unifor

Unifor, the Canadian union representing more than 20,000 auto workers, is now in its third week of collective bargaining talks with carmakers.

Union officials say a work stoppage at Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler will begin if new agreements are not reached. Unifor president Jerry Dias says about 97% of his members voted in favor of the strike deadline. 

“There’s no question this is not going to be a concessionary agreement in any way, shape or form,” Dias says. “We have a proven track record in Canada. We build quality, we’re productive and the bottom line is we’re not going to get left behind.”

Dias says the union will designate its first strike target next week. He says each of the three U.S. companies have Canadian plants with no new activity lined up beyond their current production runs.   

Click on the player above to hear WDET’s Alex McLenon interview Unifor President Jerry Dias about possible work stoppages.

Alex McLenon, 101.9 WDET: What are some of the things you guys are looking for in negotiations? 

Jerry Dias, UNIFOR: We need a product for our Ford Oakville assembly plant because we have no product beyond 2023. We just lost a third shift of our Windsor Assembly plant, which is Fiat Chrysler. We need products there – same with FCA’s Brampton assembly plant. Then of course the elephant in the room with General Motors is always how we need a product for our Oshawa complex and drive train commitments for our St. Catherine’s facility. 

So we have a full plate. Ottawa is a $100 billion per year industry here in Canada. It’s our largest export manufacturing sector.  There’s a lot of balls in the air right now and we intend on finding some real solutions. 

You mentioned the shift being eliminated at FCA’s Windsor Plant. How much is COVID impacting things with plants limited? Is that a factor? 

There’s no question that COVID is playing a factor. Car sales have taken a significant drop but candidly sales aren’t as poor as we expected they were gonna be, even three months ago when we were a couple months into COVID.  People are going to showrooms because they’re very nervous about taking public transportation and using ride sharing programs. 

So people are flocking to showrooms, which I think is an unexpected pleasure. But look, the bottom line is we’re dealing with COVID challenges today but we’re thinking about the industry for the future. Our real preoccupation is what do the products look like and what do the real increases look like that our members deserve. 

In recent years there’s been a lot of changes with how the US does trade and trying to bring jobs back. Do you guys feel like you’ve been shorted out there and how does that weigh in? 

There’s no question, Trump is a factor. But the auto manufacturers aren’t going to put in a bad business plan in order to appease him. Frankly, Donald Trump has done nothing for the auto industry during his four years. I think the auto manufacturers and others kind of view him like the emperor with no clothes.  He barks and he screams a lot but it’s not like he has a ton of credibility. The reality is it’s quite possible that he’ll lose on November the 3rd, so I’m not really convinced that his impact is significant today. 

You mentioned some of the issues with individual plants. Are there any other overarching things the union is dealing with, like pay for the workers or anything along those lines? 

We inspect wage increases that are consistent with inflation and we’re going to talk about pensions. So there’s a whole host of economics that we need to speak about. There’s no question, this is not going to be a concessionary agreement in any way, shape or form.  

We have a proven track record in Canada. We build quality, we’re productive, and the bottom line is we aren’t going to get left behind based on COVID or anything else. Ultimately our members are demanding products, they’re demanding pay increases and frankly it’s fair in today’s market. 

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