Canada union braces for possible Fiat Chrysler strike

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Windsor — Canadian auto workers for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are cautiously optimistic that their union can reach a deal with the automaker without a strike.

“Nobody wants a strike, but you’ve got to be prepared for it,” said Sandra Dominato, strike coordinator Unifor Local 444 in Windsor. “It’s obviously a tool in the toolbox you don’t want to pull out but you may have to.”

Dominato and a dozen or so other union members gathered Friday to produce picket signs and finalize strike procedures for roughly 5,900 hourly workers at the Windsor Assembly plant if a deal is not reached by the 11:59 p.m. Monday strike deadline.

The 28-year union veteran said union members have been meeting with the company this week to discuss a safe exit plan in the event of a strike, which would immediately cause about 9,750 workers to walk off the job at two assembly plants, a supporting stamping facility and a casting plant.

A strike 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. It also would shutter a casting plant that provides parts for nearly all of Fiat Chrysler’s vehicles in North America and potentially cause parts shortages for United States plants if prolonged.

“I don’t think a strike benefits anyone,” said Steve Morgan, who was working as a security guard during the last major strike by the Canadian automakers against General Motors Co. in 1996. “I didn’t see anything beneficial for GM or the union after they completed their strike.”

Unifor President Jerry Dias on Wednesday told The Detroit News 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.”

Top concerns for the union 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.

“The last two rounds of bargaining, we’ve been working with a company that was struggling,” said Frank Mosey, Local 444 strike marshal and a shop floor representative. “We’re now to the point where we’re working for a company that’s making profits and workers are looking for gains and investment.”

The union’s negotiations with FCA were expected to be less contentious than those with General Motors Co., whose workers ratified a four-year contract on Sept. 25, with 64.7 percent voting in favor of the agreement.

The GM-Unifor deal set a pattern for Fiat Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. It included wage increases, a CA$6,000 signing bonus and $554 million in plant investments.

Morgan and others on Friday said they would be happy with a similar deal with GM’s deal.

“I’m very happy,” Morgan said. “What I’m hoping for mostly is investment and job security both for the senior workers and new 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 more than $2.6 billion that the Windsor Assembly plant received for development and production of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

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

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Twitter: @MikeWayland