As the Canadian Auto Workers union and the Big Three auto makers sit down at the bargaining table this week, the Globe asked readers how they would advise both sides in the contract negotiations. Here is a collection of the best responses we received.
“The Big Three manufacturers need to remember that the workers, who had no part in the financial collapse of 2008, were part of the solution to save the industry. The CAW and Canadian taxpayers, which include CAW members, made concessions and sacrifices in order to help save this vital industry. Although the recovery in this sector is still precarious, this should not be a signal to the auto makers to take advantage of a weak recovery and extract even more concessions from those who helped to keep the industry alive.” – Paul Brown, 47, United Way of Peterborough labour programs and services co-ordinator, Peterborough, Ont.
"Think outside the box – going after wages and benefits is the easy solution but the hardest sacrifice. Also, remember auto makers are turning large profits again so employees should be rewarded somehow. ... The CAW should not accept any plant closures and demand job numbers stay the same or increase over the life of the contract." – Patrick, 35, municipal employee, Bowmanville, Ont.
“The union should wrap itself in the Canadian flag and start with Chrysler. Chrysler is the only thing saving [Sergio] Marchionne and the Agnellis from going broke. Long term, work towards an energy policy for Canada that begins to remedy the Dutch disease.” – M. Longmoore, 69, retired auto worker, Windsor, Ont.
"To the Big Three: The Center for Automotive Research recently published a report outlining insufficient capacity going forward. These companies are lean and mean now, after restructuring from 2009. Treat your remaining employees well. To the CAW, your members have made sacrifice and need reward." – Peter Sargent, 52, GM tool and die maker, Oshawa, Ont.
“Nothing should be off the table. The union should give up a lot of their work rules. The first two lines of the contract should be: The company has the right to make money; it is my job as a worker to help the company make money.” – Neil Silver, 55, former GM worker, Windsor, Ont.
“I would say to the CAW not to turn their noses up at a wage freeze if need be. I would say to Chrysler, GM and Ford, keep the plants in Canada. I would say to the CAW protect the medical benefits of long-time members as well as new. I would say to the Big Three that you have to spend money to make money, many of us do care if our cars are union-made, and whether they are made at home or overseas.” – Derek Ensoll, 29, unemployed mechanical engineering graduate, Windsor, Ont.
“The CAW has to learn to get along. They need to accept that with a slash of a pen in Detroit, the plants in Canada will be gone if they keep demanding more. In a unstable economy, the workers need to learn to be humble and grateful for what they have considering most of them would be unemployed or going to college for the first time to get trained in something else.” – Joe Flatts, 33, civil engineer, Oshawa, Ont.
“I have worked in the auto sector for more than 30 years and sat at the bargaining table with the CAW in the past. Their focus is always on higher wages and benefits for less work. They need to focus on being a more flexible, competitive workforce in a global economy. How can the CAW help the Big Three attain that goal? This may include concessions on wages, benefit reductions and to restructure job classifications that move away from the traditional ‘that's not my job’ mindset. Better to have reasonable pay and benefits with a positive future, than no future for their membership. The catchall phrase ‘management was going to close the plant anyway,’ is never true. It is always the last and least desirable option for the management team.” – David Inman, 52, plant manager, London, Ont.
“Recognize the contributions of your workers to the successful reinvention of GM. Recognize the need of the company to be competitive. Work together to address the needs of both sides. Understand the responsibility to your pensioners who devoted their working lives to the company with the promise of a secure retirement. Think in terms of helping one another rather than making demands in order that one side emerges as a winner and the other a loser. Ignore uninformed public opinion, including the media. They have no understanding of the inner workings nor the reality of factory life.” – Michael Hance, 50, GM quality monitor, Oshawa, Ont.
“Bargain for the future of sustainability. Don't bargain for what may or may not have happened in the past. It is paramount that both sides focus on making productivity gains while ensuring dignity and quality of the workforce. Don't forget that the bargaining leverage may fall on the auto makers as the U.S. has stored capacity in their plants. Ask yourself why are other foreign auto makers building in the U.S. – cost, cost, cost. Fixed cost impacts should be deemed not negotiable as the economy and the Canadian dollar are not as stable as one might think. Many other industries have applied wage freezes so it seems reasonable that the topic should be discussed. Concessions may be obvious, product placement in the highly touted plants should be the driver for the CAW. There is no sense fighting for a dollar if there is no car or truck to build. They should also request the product placed be one of higher volume and not so niche market – Cadillac and Camaro, for example. Perhaps little can be done about that but while you are bargaining..." – Mark, 39, occupational health and safety manager, Bowmanville, Ont.
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