Canadian auto union split by strife as Ford contract talks wind down

DEARBORN — Canada’s largest private sector union headed into the final hours of contract negotiations Monday with Ford refusing to meet the same contract terms as General Motors and Fiat Chrysler while also contending with deep divisions among its own union leaders.

Ford has repeatedly told Unifor leaders that it will not agree to a contract similar to those previously agreed to by GM and FCA unless the union agrees to accept “significant offsets.”

“Ford is proposing an offset that seeks the immediate introduction of temporary full time workers that would receive a lower starting wage and it is seeking concessions in the longer term health care for our members,” Unifor spokeswoman Denise Hammond said in a media update at 4 p.m. Monday. “Our goal is fairness for all of our members and fairness in these negotiations means negotiating a pattern agreement that has been achieved elsewhere without any offsets.”

Unifor’s contract with Ford is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. tonight. If an agreement isn’t reached, Hammond said, Ford’s Unifor members will go on strike for the first time in 20 years.

Unifor reached an agreement with GM on Sept. 20 and with FCA on Oct. 10. Those agreements provide union members with a $6,000 signing bonus, three $2,000 annual bonuses and two 2% wage increases.

They also provide newly hired workers with a slightly higher wage progression over a 10-year period until they reach a top wage of $34.15 per hour in Canadian dollars.

The agreements also include a pledge from GM to invest $540 million in its Canadian plants in Oshawa and St. Catharines, Ontario, and a commitment from FCA to invest $331 million to build a new paint shop at its plant in Brampton, Ontario, and update its plant in Etobicoke, Ontario.

With Ford, Unifor’s top priority is to convince the automaker to invest in two engine plants in Windsor and keep 1,700 workers employed there.

While Unifor President Jerry Dias has struggled to get Ford to agree to the same wage increases and bonuses he also has been fighting with some of his own union leaders who say the new agreements with FCA and GM are not enough.

Dave Thomas, president of Unifor Local 707, has said repeatedly that he will tell the 5,000 workers at Ford’s Oakville Assembly Plant to vote against any contract modeled after the FCA and GM deals.

“When we entered into 2016 bargaining the main focus for Unifor was investment, but these were not our only demands. Our other efforts are based around much deserved gains,” Thomas said in a newsletter on Oct. 13.

Thomas’ position has created division, in part because the future of the Oakville plant was secured last year with a $700 million investment so that the plant can produce a redesigned version of the Ford Edge.

On Sunday, the leaders of Unifor Local 200 accused Thomas of putting Ford’s presence in Canada at risk. Unifor Local 200, which represents workers at Ford’s Windsor engine plants, said Ford has threatened to pull out of Canada if there is a strike.

“At a time when we should be focused on fighting the employer for a contract and securing the future of good union jobs, negotiations and our collective futures are being gambled on by the Local 707 bargaining committee. It’s not right and it’s not fair to all Unifor Ford members,” the leaders of Unifor Local 200 said in a letter posted on its Facebook page.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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