FCA-Unifor talks continue as strike deadline looms

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Talks between Canadian autoworkers union Unifor and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV progressed through the weekend and are expected to continue as an 11:59 p.m. Monday strike deadline looms.

A strike would halt production of the 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 U.S. plants if prolonged.

Unifor Sunday afternoon said its Master Bargaining Committee was seeking “to secure the pattern agreement that was established with (General Motors Co.)” as several subcommittees continued to meet.

“Talks are scheduled to continue around the clock and will take place on the holiday Monday (Canadian Thanksgiving),” union spokeswoman Denise Hammond said in an email.

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

Fiat Chrysler-Canada spokeswoman LouAnn Gosselin on Sunday confirmed negotiations were ongoing but did not provide details of the discussions.

Unifor President Jerry Dias last week told The Detroit News and other media that Fiat Chrysler was concerned with wage gains in a deal ratified by members Sept. 25 with GM.

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

The deal includes 2-percent wage increases now and in 2019, a CA$6,000 signing bonus and $554 million in plant investments.

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

Dias has 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.

Unifor workers have been preparing for a potential strike for weeks, informing members of procedures and preparing for potential picketing at Canadian plants.

“We’re still preparing,”said Sandra Dominato, Unifor Local 444 strike coordinator in Windsor, on Sunday. “We’re just waiting for news from the bargaining committee in Toronto ... but there’s still a lot of time before the deadline.”

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 the three vehicles were redesigned for the 2015 model year, but nothing close to the $2.6 billion the company spent for development and production of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan at the Windsor Assembly Plant.

“Four years ago, workers at (Brampton and Etobicoke) stood behind us in Windsor so we could get a $2 billion investment to build the next-generation of minivans and it’s our turn to return that favor,” Frank Mosey, Local 444 strike marshal and a shop floor representative, said on Friday in Windsor.

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