Unifor national president Jerry Dias says both Ford of Canada and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles seem more willing to commit to future investment in Canada than rival General Motors of Canada.
“Though we have similar challenges with both Ford and Fiat Chrysler, they understand investment decisions are going to be part of 2016 negotiations,” Dias said at a news conference Thursday, after union officials met with both Ford and Fiat Chrysler, just one day after initial meetings with GM on Wednesday.
Dias repeatedly noted that the Big Three automakers were willing to commit billions in investment at U.S. plants during contract talks with the United Auto Workers last year. “We are expecting nothing less in Canada,” he said.
The union has made promises of future investment in Canada the hallmark of this year’s bargaining campaign, which it says will ensure job security — vowing they will not leave the negotiating table if they don’t get such a commitment.
Priorities include getting a new product line at GM’s Oshawa assembly plant, at Ford’s engine plant in Windsor and upgrades at Fiat Chrysler’s assembly plant in Brampton.
Without more investment, Dias has said it would mean the death of the Canadian auto industry — although GM has said it will not talk about future investments until after a labour contract is signed.
“GM will change their position during this set of negotiations, the only question is when,” Dias said. “We are determined we are going to find long-term solutions for our Oshawa operations.”
Unifor represents about 23,000 workers at the three car companies in Canada.
Ford’s chief negotiator, Steve Majer, told reporters that investment in the Windsor engine plant is the key issue in this year’s talks, saying the company wants to find “a made-in-Canada” solution that strikes a balance between “a competitive agreement and meeting the needs of our employees.”
He noted that the company has made a $1-billion investment at the Oakville assembly plant, where four cross-over vehicles, including the Ford Flex and Ford Edge, are built. More than 2,000 employees have been added at that plant.
The challenge is that Canada is a high-cost country to produce cars, compared to other jurisdictions like Mexico, so “we need to find ways to make sure that we are the best in terms of manufacturing metrics,” including productivity, Majer said.
Fiat Chrysler’s lead negotiator, James Dyckman, spoke only briefly to reporters, emphasizing that the company has always had a good relationship with Unifor and the start of discussions were good.
He acknowledged that winning commitments for the Brampton assembly plant, where the Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger and Chrysler 300 are built, was a top union priority.
“It was a ceremonial opening day. We haven’t gotten into the details,” Dyckman said, adding that the company has made a significant investment in Windsor, where the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Pacifica are assembled.
Union officials will continue to meet with negotiators at all three companies in the coming weeks. It will name a target company on the Tuesday after Labour Day. That is the company where it believes it can reach the best deal, which will then become the pattern in separate talks with the other two automakers.
“There is no question the decision on the target will be the company that has the longest-term strategic vision for Canada,” Dias said.
The current four-year contract with all three companies expires at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 19.
– The Toronto Star