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Cars pass under an overpass at the General Motors Car assembly plant in Oshawa, June 1, 2012.Mark Blinch/Reuters

The Unifor union begins contract talks with General Motors on Tuesday, two days after its members narrowly approved a three-year contract with Ford Motor Co. of Canada.

The Ford agreement, which provides pay increases of almost 20 per cent including inflation top-ups and $10,000 signing bonuses, will set the pattern for the GM negotiations.

Unifor national director Lana Payne says the GM round will tough, and hopes it will yield a tentative agreement that will receive more support than did the Ford deal.

“I’m going to do my best,” Ms. Payne said in an interview.

“This will not be an easy round of bargaining with General Motors,” Ms. Payne said. “There is no doubt in my mind. I figure we’re going to have to drag them kicking and screaming” to match the Ford deal.

The slim approval of the Ford agreement suggests ratification of a similar deal at GM is not assured. Some Unifor members are unhappy about the pension provisions in the Ford deal. Autoworkers made major concessions to help keep their employers afloat in the financial crisis of 2008-09, the retirees say, and have yet to see these restored even as the companies make robust profits.

Ms. Payne said she is aware of the criticism of the Ford agreement, particularly from members who are nearing retirement age. She notes the Ford deal makes the first improvements to pensions in 15 years, and offers better plans for younger members than previously.

“The pensions are really tough to negotiate,” she said.

Much of the dissatisfaction stems from the affordability and housing crisis workers across Canada are in, she said, pointing to rising inflation and interest rates.

“We knew going into this round of bargaining that we were going to have to hit this contract out of the ballpark. It was going to have to be, and it is, the richest agreement that we’ve bargained with the Big Three in our history,” Ms. Payne said.

Under the Ford agreement, workers get a 10-per-cent raise in the first year of the deal, then 2 per cent and 3 per cent in the following years. The agreement boosts a production worker’s hourly rate to $42 in the first year of the deal and to $44.50 by the third year, from $37 now. A skilled tradesperson will make $56 an hour by the end of the contract, up from almost $45 now. These rates include cost of living top-ups.

New hires currently start at $24 an hour and take eight years to make the standard hourly rate of $37. Under the new contract, these employees join the regular pay scale after four years.

No strike deadline has been announced for the GM talks. The final round of negotiations will be with Stellantis NV, maker of Jeep and Chrysler.

GM employs 4,300 workers at its St. Catharines powertrain plant, the Oshawa pick-up truck and parts factory and a parts warehouse in Woodstock.

The talks open as GM and the other Detroit Three automakers face widening strikes at certain plants in the United States. The work stoppages by the United Auto Workers began on Sept. 15. The UAW is demanding 40-per-cent raises over four years, better pensions and a four-day work week. They want an end to two-tier wage scales, and are seeking to regain the financial concessions they made in the pandemic. The companies are offering 20-per-cent raises over four years, and resisting other demands.

The UAW demands are higher than the Ford of Canada settlement, but workers in the U.S. are paid about $11 an hour less, on top of other differences, Ms. Payne said.

On Sept. 22, the UAW expanded its strikes to another 38 plants bringing to 41 the number of idled factories. Only one of these is run by Ford, with which UAW says it has the best relationship. This is the first time the union has gone on strike at all Detroit-based automakers simultaneously.

Industry watchers expect the strikes to have a growing impact on the Canadian automotive sector, given the interconnectedness of the manufacturing processes.

Unifor union members vote to ratify Ford deal

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