Union shop could blunt automaker’s competitive edge: Toyota chair

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Unifor’s latest attempt at organizing workers at Toyota’s plants in Ontario is nothing more than a money grab, said Ray Tanguay, chairman of Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Canada.

According to Ontario’s Labour Relations Act, the union needs union cards signed by over 40 per cent of the automaker’s 7,000 workers at its Cambridge, Ont., plant.

The union has it, said Jerry Dias, Unifor president.

“Of course Unifor is interested in collecting memberships,” Tanguay said at an automotive industry event on the eve of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “That’s a $6 million contribution to their own organization. I understand their motive.”

Still Tanguay was not impressed, warning that the costs of a union contract could blunt the automaker’s competitive edge.

“We as executives of Toyota, our job is making sure we can take care of our team members, making sure we’re competitive and making sure we can sustain the good volumes that we presently have,” he told the Windsor Star.

John Aman, head of organizing at Unifor, said the union remains hopeful that a certification vote can be held early this year.

“Things are proceeding as planned,” said Aman. “The higher the level of support the higher the level of success.”

Past organizing efforts at the Toyota plants have failed because the union could not muster up enough support.

Pensions, workplace safety and workers hired on  temporary contracts, which have reduced benefits and don’t allow participation in the company’s pension plan, are key issues, he said.

“Toyota unilaterally changed the  company pension plan from a defined benefits to a defined contribution plan for new hires, said Aman.

“Some workers on temporary contracts have to wait five or six years before gaining permanent status,” said Aman.

Tanguay countered that in 2013, the company hired 1,000 temporary workers and made 900 permanent. He also said that unlike the Detroit Three, Toyota has never resorted to laying off workers during economic downturns.

“When we had a market downturn, we kept our team members, we trained them, we invested in them. What did the other competitors do? They laid them off.   That’s why we are a different type of company.”

Compared to their Detroit Three counterparts, Toyota workers  enjoy a higher quality of work-life balance because they have never had the “burden” of working three shifts.

“We still manage with two shifts,” he said. “And we’re trying  to minimize the burden on team members as well as protect their weekends as much as possible.”

When asked whether a Toyota would continue its no-layoff policy if Unifor is successful, Tanguay replied: “I don’t know because everything  is open when we negotiate.”

With files from the Windsor Star.