Canadian auto workers select FCA next for negotiations

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Unifor will turn its attention to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, after the Canadian auto workers union reached a tentative agreement earlier this week with General Motors Co.

Unifor’s negotiations with FCA are expected to go more smoothly than those with GM, which was seen as the union’s biggest challenge in winning new investment with the Detroit automakers.

GM’s deal, which averted a strike that could have disrupted production in Canada and the U.S., is expected to be a template for the union’s negotiations with FCA and Ford Motor Co. GM’s nearly 3,900 Unifor members who work at Oshawa, St. Catharines and Woodstock will vote Sunday on whether to ratify the four-year agreement.

“ If members support the recommendation and approve the new four year Collective Agreement we will shift our focus and immediately resume negotiations with FCA,” said Jerry Dias National President in a statement on Thursday. “Unifor will be seeking a pattern settlement that includes our top priority — investment.”

The GM agreement included $554 million in new investments, wage increases for current and new employees who top out at $34 an hour, and a signing bonus. It would also move 700 temporary workers to full-time status. Negatively for the union, it included the elimination of a defined-benefit pension plan for new hires.

Dias has touted these negotiations as a battle for the future of Canada’s auto industry.

Canada lost more than 53,000 automotive jobs from 2001 to 2014, according to a study by Ontario’s Automotive Policy Research Centre. Tony Faria, professor emeritus in the office of automotive and vehicle research at the University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business, said assembly production in the country peaked in 1999. Despite some year-over-year gains, it has declined steadily since. This new contract could help reverse that trend, Dias said.

The biggest part of the negotiations between FCA and Unifor are expected to be over the company’s Brampton Assembly plant, as its Windsor Assembly plant has received billions of dollars in new investments in recent years for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

FCA Canada on Thursday confirmed Unifor’s decision, but declined to directly comment on the negotiations.

“FCA Canada is committed to working collaboratively with Unifor to develop an agreement that balances the needs of Unifor and our employees, while enhancing the Company’s competitiveness in Canada,” the company said in an emailed statement. “As negotiations are now beginning in earnest, the Company can offer no further comment.”

That’s far different from Brampton Assembly, which has not received major investments in five years.

The plant’s 3,450 employees produce the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger and Challenger large cars for the automaker.

FCA invested an undisclosed amount when all three vehicles were redesigned for the 2015 model year. Prior to that, the facility’s last public investment was $20 million in 2011.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne raised eyebrows earlier this year in Brampton by saying Windsor Assembly, which produces minivans, could produce the Chrysler 300. He gave no commitment to shift production.

Dias previously told The Detroit News that he didn’t view “Marchionne’s comments as somehow threatening our members in Brampton,” saying all automakers are increasing the use of flexible assembly lines capable of building multiple vehicles.

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Twitter: @MikeWayland