Unifor union, Ford reach tentative agreement

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Canadian auto workers union Unifor announced a tentative agreement with Ford Motor Co. nearly 30 minutes past an 11:59 p.m. Monday strike deadline that includes wage gains for workers and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.

The union said the proposed deal follows the pattern agreement that was ratified by members at General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV that included a 10-year wage grow-in period with annual raises for new and recently hired members; CA$6,000 signing bonus; and CA$2,000 lump-sum payments in the final three years of the deal. They also included 2 percent wage increases for traditional members now and in 2019.

Unifor President Jerry Dias said the deal also includes about CA$700 million in new investments — the “overwhelming majority” of which will go to the Dearborn-based automaker’s Essex Engine plant in Windsor. That investment is expected to begin in mid-2018 for launch in 2019 or 2020, according to Unifor Local 200 President Chris Taylor, chair of the bargaining committee.

The proposed deal now must be ratified by the union’s 6,400 members with the Dearborn-based automaker. The union is expected to begin voting Saturday, with its six locals completing the process by Sunday night.

The union did not solidify major investments for the Oakville Assembly or Windsor Engine Plant, however union leaders overall touted the agreement as a victory.

“It has been a trying set of bargaining — battling with Ford Motor Co. was extremely painful,” said Bob Scott, vice chairman of the Ford bargaining committee from Oakville Assembly. “We are leaving here with what I believe is an incredible agreement but there are some things we don’t like about it.”

The company, according to Taylor, plans to phase out the Ford Flex — one of four vehicles assembled at Oakville Assembly — in 2020. The facility, under the deal, will receive some investment for upgrades of the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, however there was no mention of the Lincoln MKT, which shares the same platform of the Flex.

“We believe we’re positioned quite well for moving forward,” Dias said, adding the key for Oakville Assembly is it will be “primary builder” for export vehicles internationally.

Workers at Windsor Engine are expected to continue to produce 6.8-liter engines, which Ford has been phasing out. Taylor said there are some “different plans in place” that are expected to keep producing the engine through 2020, which the union said was longer than previously expected.

Ford confirmed early Tuesday that a tentative agreement had been reached but did not disclose specifics, saying Ford of Canada will not discuss details until unionized employees have had the opportunity to review and vote on the agreement.

Dias, when asked about a workforce reduction from the Windsor Engine plant’s 600 workers, said there will be a “transition” for the workforce with the new product for Essex Engine and that the Windsor Engine plant will “not likely” close during the length of the deal.

“If I’m talking Ford in Windsor, we’re much better than we were yesterday,” Dias said, adding the “challenge in Windsor was significant.”

He said he “would expect” the overall number of employees in Windsor to increase during the contract, as Essex Engine moves up from a class “C Plant” to a class “A Plant” to produce engines for Ford’s “best-selling vehicles.”

Ford, according to Dias, will not be allowed to hire full-time, temporary workers to offset increases in the wage grow-in period, which some union members wanted to see cut down to eight years.

Dias said the agreement “really takes care” of the union’s newest members; includes wage increases for veteran workers; and “ entrenches the basic principal” of “solidifying” the automotive footprint for Ford in Canada.

If a deal was not reached, the union said workers were prepared to strike and walk out of their plants — halting engine production and vehicle assembly of four vehicles at three facilities: Essex Engine Plant, Windsor Engine Plant and Oakville Assembly Plant. Oakville is by far the largest, with about 5,000 employees.

A strike would have been the first by the Canadian auto workers union against one of the Detroit automakers since 1996, when GM members halted production at their facilities for three weeks.

The promised investment by Ford is more than the CA$331 million promised by Fiat Chrysler and $554 million by GM under their deals. However, Fiat Chrysler recently spent $2.6 billion for the development and production of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan in Windsor.

Heading into the talks, Unifor’s main goal was investment and product commitments in an attempt to secure the future of the Canadian auto industry, which has significantly declined in the past decade.

Dias overall called the 2016 negotiations “a tremendous success.”


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Twitter: @MikeWayland