Negotiators from automaker Stellantis NV STLA-N and Unifor are set to begin contract talks on Aug. 10, as the union seeks better wages and job security in an industry upended by the switch to electric-vehicle production.
Lana Payne, Unifor national president, said the union’s demands will include guarantees that layoffs related to the factory shutdowns and retooling for electric vehicles will be as short as possible. “If we can wiggle some more investment dollars out of them, we’ll be looking for that too,” Ms. Payne said at a Friday news conference at the Stellantis factory in Brampton, Ont.
The factory northwest of Toronto employs 2,400 people and makes cars that will have reached the end of their production lives by the end of the year: the Dodge Charger and Challenger muscle cars and Chrysler 300 sedan.
Mark Stewart, chief operating officer for Stellantis in North America, declined to say which models would replace the cars, but said the future of the plants in Brampton and Windsor are secure, dispelling rumours the Brampton plant would close.
The Windsor minivan plant employs 3,600 workers. Both plants have two shifts of production, and are expected to add a third after being refit, Stellantis has said.
“I’ve given a reassurance … in writing to the province, to the feds as well, that we absolutely are committed on the agreements we have with Windsor, with Brampton,” Mr. Stewart said at the same news conference.
In 2022 Stellantis announced the Brampton plant and its minivan factory in Windsor will be retooled to make electric or hybrid vehicles. Stellantis, whose brands include Jeep, Ram, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat, has set 2030 targets for battery-powered car sales of 100 per cent in Europe and 50 per cent in the United States.
Joe McCabe, an analyst at AutoForecast Solutions, said in an interview his research has revealed Stellantis will reshape the Brampton plant to build an electric Jeep model, and will have the capacity for another vehicle, given the plant’s large size. The Dodge muscle car output will shift to Windsor, possibly in a Charger hybrid form, Mr. McCabe said by phone.
Mr. Stewart said plants in Ontario and elsewhere will make vehicles that will use the batteries produced at its joint venture in Windsor.
Stellantis and partner LG Energy Solution of South Korea recently squeezed larger subsidies from Canadian taxpayers after threatening to walk away from the project. The governments of Ontario and Canada agreed to give as much as $15-billion in subsidies to save the factory, after the companies pointed to rich incentives offered in the United States.
Mr. Stewart said the government subsidies helped secure Stellantis’s future in the province. “We’ve been through some interesting times here over the last month or two, but really happy with the overall outcome,” Mr. Stewart said. “Big shout-out to the provincial government and the feds for coming together to secure the next 80 to 100 years in Canada.”
He said the stalemate delayed the project by almost two months. “Construction is completely back on and we’re finding ways to make up, hopefully, that seven weeks that we lost. … We need that seven weeks back so that we can get batteries into this facility and others.”
Unifor begins contract talks with the Detroit Three automakers, Stellantis, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, at the same time. The union, which represents 20,000 people at the three companies, has yet to name which employer it will target for intensive bargaining or a strike. Traditionally, this agreement sets the pattern for the deal other Canada-based car makers are expected to agree upon.
The bargaining coincides with United Auto Workers talks in the United States. The UAW’s new president has signalled the bargaining will be hard fought, vowing a “war” on “corporate greed” and forgoing the traditional handshake with company officials at the start of negotiations.
In contrast with the apparently tense stand in the U.S., Mr. Stewart and Ms. Payne accompanied the media and Stellantis and union officials on a tour of the Brampton factory on Friday. The two leaders posed for pictures with employees, and swapped jokes on the factory floor before climbing together into a black Dodge, Ms. Payne in the driver’s seat.