Unifor members ratify agreement with Ford

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Canadian auto workers union Unifor completed its contract negotiations over the weekend with the Detroit automakers.

Ford Motor Co.’s world headquarters in Dearborn was evacuated Monday morning due to a fire coming from an electrical substation in the basement of the building.

The union Sunday night said 58 percent of Ford Motor Co.’s 6,400 members who voted Saturday and Sunday supported the contract, which includes CA$713 million in investments at Ford’s Canadian facilities. The vote included 56 percent of production members and 72 percent of skilled trades workers approving the agreement, according to the union.

“With the Ford ratification, our union has secured more good, unionized jobs at all of the Detroit Three automakers,” said Unifor President Jerry Dias in a release announcing the ratification. “We solidified a footprint for the future of (autos) in Canada and none of this would have happened if our union was not willing to fight for principles and to do it together.”

The Dearborn-based automaker promised to invest CA$713 million as part of the deal, including CA$613 million in its Windsor operations and CA$100 million in Oakville Assembly. The union did not breakdown the Windsor investment between its Windsor Engine and Essex Engine plants. However most, if not all of the investment, is expected to go toward the Essex Engine plant.

The company, according to the union, promised Essex Engine production of a new large displacement engine for some of the company’s highest-selling products. Investment for that engine is expected to begin in mid-2018 for launch in 2019 or 2020, union officials previously said.

The union did not solidify major investment at its Windsor Engine plant, which is expected to continue to be the sole source for all 6.8-liter engine assembly and current component machining. That program will continue through its product life cycle, which may extend beyond the life of the agreement (based on market conditions and customer demand), the union said.

“Bargaining is always tough, but reaching this contract was no small feat. I am proud of our collective efforts that made it possible,” said Chris Taylor, Unifor Ford bargaining committee chair, in a statement. “We now have a solid path that will bring back those on lay-off and offer our members the job security they deserve for the coming years.”

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

More than 500 jobs are expected to be created or retained under the deal, according to the union. Dias last week 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.”

A union official last week said Ford plans to phase out the Ford Flex, one of four vehicles assembled at Oakville Assembly, in 2020. Investment for the facility under the deal will be for mid-cycle upgrades for the 2018 Edge/MKX. However the union released little details of plans for the Lincoln MKT, which shares the same platform of the Flex.

Aside from investment, the Ford deal includes base wage increases; a 10-year grow-in period for new and recently hired employees; CA$6,000 signing bonus; and CA$2,000 lump-sum payments in the final three years of the deal. It also included 2 percent wage increases for traditional members now and in 2019.

Unifor announced the tentative agreement with Ford nearly 30 minutes past an 11:59 p.m. Oct. 31 strike deadline — avoiding a work stoppage at the automaker’s Canadian operations.

Ford late Sunday said the “globally competitive” agreement “ensures a strong future for our employees, our customers and our communities.”

“This competitive agreement with Unifor enables Ford of Canada to further strengthen its business and positions the Canadian operations for future success,” said Steve Majer, Ford of Canada vice president of Human Resources, in an emailed statement. “Ford continues to speak with the federal and Ontario governments to ensure long-term sustainability for Canada’s auto manufacturing sector.”

The Ford deal was patterned off agreements ratified by Unifor members at General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Seventy-percent of the 9,750 people across all bargaining units who voted at Fiat Chrysler supported their deal; 64.7 percent of union members with GM ratified their deal.

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.

Ford’s investments brings total investment by Detroit automakers to more than $1.5 billion.

“Our ability to secure a massive amount of new investment signals that the auto industry in Canada is here for the long term,” Dias said in a message to members about the agreement.

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.

“Many skeptics said we couldn’t do it, but we did. In this, our first set of Unifor auto negotiations, we made gains, achieved a pattern and secured good-paying jobs for the future,” Dias wrote to members.


Twitter: @MikeWayland