As renewed talks with General Motors stretch into the second week, Unifor negotiators are hitting resistance as they work to get the automaker to agree to the same gains they won at Ford Motor Co.
The Ford agreement ratified in September, which gave workers increases of almost 20 per cent over three years, a $10,000 bonus and better pensions, sets the pattern for the union’s negotiations with GM and then Stellantis NV.
However, Unifor national president Lana Payne said talks with GM are slow, and the automaker won’t agree to some terms of the Ford deal.
“Anyone who thinks that a pattern is a matter of sitting down with these companies and getting them to rubber stamp it needs to understand it is totally not like that,” said Ms. Payne, without elaborating on the sticking points.
Both sides are in talks at a Toronto hotel, with a strike deadline of midnight on Oct. 9. The negotiations cover 4,200 hourly employees in Ontario who work at the Oshawa assembly plant, St. Catharines engine and transmission factory, and parts warehouse in Woodstock.
“It’s a fight at the bargaining table with GM,” Ms. Payne said, “but if we can’t get this pattern achieved, it ends up in one place – on a picket line.”
Unifor and some other unions use collective agreements at one employer as a standard or template for other talks. The pattern bargaining strategy aims to ensure workers are treated similarly across a sector, and that companies compete in the market based on their products and not the amount they pay employees.
The Canadian talks coincide with limited but expanding strikes by the United Auto Workers against the Detroit Three in the United States.
The Ford contract brings wage increases of 10 per cent in the first year, and 2 and 3 per cent in the following years. Workers in the skilled trades will receive raises of an additional 2.75 per cent in year one of the contract and 2.5 per cent in year three.
By the final year of the agreement, skilled trades workers will make $56 an hour. Production workers will make $44.50 an hour.
The gains are described by union leaders and industry observers as rich.
Still, it was ratified by just 54 per cent of the 5,680 members.
The skilled-trades group within Ford’s unionized work force voted against it, as did many older workers. They say the increases to pay and pensions are not enough amid high inflation and pandemic furloughs after years of concessions made to keep afloat the automakers, which went on to post robust profits.
“This is a very good agreement that makes significant gains for auto workers,” said Steven Tufts, a professor at York University. “But it’s in the context of high inflation and an increased period of raised worker expectations.”
Carrie Smith, the local president of Ford workers at Ontario distribution centres in Bramalea, Casselman and Paris, said the deal was supported by 75 per cent of her members, many of them recent hires. They like the faster path to full pay, the better pensions and other improvements, she said.
High fives and cheers greeted news of the ratification, said Ms. Smith.
She called the deal “life-changing,” for her and others struggling to pay mortgages or move out of their parents’ basements.
“I got a $12-an-hour raise last week,” said the 41-year-old Ms. Smith, who started at Ford five years ago and now jumps immediately to the senior pay scale rather than wait another three years. “At least I can live comfortably now.”
The pattern set at Ford is expected to receive more support from GM workers, given the majority at the Oshawa plant are recent hires eager for the faster path to better wages.
Maria Chinelli, who works on GM’s Oshawa assembly line making pickup trucks, is one such worker. She started at the plant in 2021, when it reopened, and makes about $24 an hour.
As she awaits a tentative agreement, she concedes that the Ford deal could be better but is still quite good. The Ford pattern brings more time off, and a better pension. She’ll vote yes, given the chance. “Not only me, a lot of the recent hires,” said Ms. Chinelli, 45.
As they bargain with GM, Unifor negotiators are aware of the opposition to the pattern agreement from the skilled trades group at Ford, GM and Stellantis.
Monte Doran, a GM spokesman, declined to discuss negotiations.
In an interview, Ms. Payne said she is aware of the opposition to the pattern from the skilled trades local at Stellantis, led by Dave Cassidy, an influential union figure who ran against her for the leadership of Unifor in 2022. But for now, the GM talks are paramount.
“We’ll deal with Stellantis when we get there,” she said.