Canadian union leader: FCA, Ford concerned with wages

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Ford Motor Co. are concerned with the wage gains won by the Canadian auto workers with General Motors Co., according to Unifor President Jerry Dias.

The labor union leader said the companies feel the pattern deal with Detroit’s largest automaker, which includes wage increases and signing bonuses, will cost them too much. Their main issue, he said, comes from a new 10-year wage grow-in period for new members that includes annual raises that top wages out for assemblers at CA$35.78 an hour, up from CA$34.41.

“The new grid we put into place really just jacks up the numbers considerably, so they’re not thrilled, but at the end of the day Fiat Chrysler is doing very well, so they understand what pattern means,” Dias told The Detroit News on Wednesday, adding Ford also is “not amused” with the changes in the pay grid.

Representatives with both Ford and Fiat Chrysler declined to directly comment on Dias’ remarks.

Under pattern agreements, the first deal reached traditionally sets the standards for the agreements with other automakers.

Dias said Unifor’s 23,000 members working for Detroit automakers won’t be paid differently between the automakers, as United Auto Workers members are in the United States.

“We’re not going to have our members competing internally about numbers,” Dias said. “If I’m working on the line, I’m going to make the same money regardless of which one of the Detroit Three.”

Fiat Chrysler in particular has 1,700 new hires that mostly have less than one year of experience that would receive annual wage increases, Dias said. Ford, he said, has about 2,200 — predominately with more than one year.

Under the GM deal, Dias said workers with two years or less of experience would receive a raise of about CA$5.50 over the four-year deal. Those with two to three years would earn CA$6.90, he said.

Union members at GM facilities in Canada on Sept. 25 ratified a four-year contract with Unifor, with 64.7 percent voting in favor of the agreement. It includes 2 percent wage increases now and in 2019, a CA$6,000 signing bonus and $554 million in plant investments.

Unifor’s top concerns with Fiat Chrysler are investments in Brampton Assembly and Etobicoke Casting Plant. The plants, including a supporting stamping facility for Brampton, employ more than 4,000 people, including about 3,750 hourly workers.

Brampton Assembly produces the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger large cars. The facility hasn’t received a major investment since 2011. Fiat Chrysler did invest an undisclosed amount when all three vehicles were redesigned for the 2015 model year, however nothing close to the $3 billion in recent years that the Windsor Assembly plant received for development and production of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

“What we need more than anything else is straight-forward responses about what their short-term and long-term plans are, especially for our Brampton facility,” Dias said.

Etobicoke’s roughly 500 workers produce aluminum die castings and pistons for virtually all of the company’s vehicles in North America.

Dias said he’s concerned with that plant because the company decided to eliminate production of the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart sedans in the United States, which get parts from Etobicoke.

Dias said he hasn’t spoken directly with Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who raised eyebrows in Brampton this summer when he said that Windsor Assembly could produce the Chrysler 300. Dias said he plans to speak to Marchionne as the talks get closer to the strike deadline on Monday.

Marchionne recently said he would not be as involved with the Unifor negotiations as he was with the United Auto Workers in 2015.

“I will at some point and time (be involved),” he said during a dinner last month for the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, which he is chairing a two-year fundraising campaign for.

Marchionne said he took a “more active role” in the UAW talks particularly due to the discussions about eliminating the two-tier wage system, which Canadian union workers don’t to not have in their contract.

Regarding Brampton, Marchionne said the company will “take it one day at a time.” He said the cars being produced there are “solid” and “performing well.”

If a deal is not reached by the Monday strike deadline, it would hurt Fiat Chrysler’s operations far more severely than it would have hit GM during its labor talks.

The largest threat of a strike at GM was at an engine and transmission plant, which would have eventually slowed production at several assembly plants. And the one Canadian GM plant that would have gone on strike builds mostly cars that are not selling well.

If a strike occurs at Fiat Chrysler, it would immediately halt production of the highly important Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans, as well as the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger and Challenger.

Those five vehicles last month accounted for 20 percent — about 39,500 units — of the company’s sales in the U.S. and 25 percent — about 5,000 units — in Canada.

Dias said he believes a deal can be reached with Fiat Chrysler before the deadline, however they remain early in negotiations.

“We’ve got major, major issues that we still need to get our head around,” he said. “There’s no question we’ll be bargaining all the way through the weekend.”

Unifor represents more than 40,000 workers in the auto industry, including more than 23,000 working for the Detroit Three. It was formed in 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged.


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Twitter: @MikeWayland