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Unifor national president Jerry Dias gestures during a news conference in Toronto, on Oct. 15, 2020.

Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

The Unifor union says it has secured a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV that will see as much as $1.5-billion spent to make plug-in or hybrid electric vehicles in Windsor, Ont.

The car maker’s commitment, part of a three-year tentative collective agreement reached Wednesday night, will boost employment at FCA’s Windsor minivan factory by 2,000 by 2024, said Jerry Dias, national president of the union that represents 9,000 workers at FCA.

The news follows Unifor’s signing of a three-year agreement with Ford Motor Co. that included an announcement that the automaker’s Oakville, Ont., factory would undergo a $1.8-billion retooling in 2024 to make electric vehicles. The conversion is aided by $590-million of taxpayer money from the Ontario and federal governments.

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FCA will spend the “lion’s share” of the money to retool the Windsor plant for production to start in 2024, but there are negotiations with the federal and Ontario governments for taxpayer money, as well, Mr. Dias said.

“The commitment is immediately to launch one vehicle by 2024, but we know that this platform will be able to build multiple, multiple vehicles, everything from pickups to cars to crossovers,” he said.

Mr. Dias said the deal also secures the futures of FCA’s Brampton, Ont., factory with the rollout of three new versions of the Chrysler and Dodge sedans made there. Chrysler’s third Ontario plant, the Etobicoke castings factory in Toronto, will add about 100 jobs as it makes new products, Mr. Dias said at a news conference on Thursday morning.

Brian Kingston, head of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association, which represents the Detroit Three, said such a large investment from an automaker underlines a commitment to maintaining production. He declined to comment on the size of any possible taxpayer contribution to the FCA retooling, but said the COVID-related economic crisis has highlighted the importance of government incentives to retain and attract jobs and factory investments.

“Other governments around the world are going to be absolutely at war to try and win these types of job and we’ve got to be willing to step up and do the same,” Mr. Kingston said by phone.

The employment terms of the tentative FCA agreement mirror those of the deal reached recently with Ford. That agreement included 5-per-cent raises over three years and bonuses. The FCA agreement was announced shortly before the midnight strike deadline and must be ratified by members after a meeting on Sunday.

FCA employs 4,600 at the Windsor plant, which makes the Chrysler Pacifica and Grand Caravan minivans. The plant recently got rid of its third shift, cutting 1,375 jobs. The Brampton plant makes the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger, with 3,100 workers. The Etobicoke castings plant employs about 200 people and makes engine, transmission and other components.

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Kristin Dziczek, vice-president of industry, labour and economics at Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the shift to electric or hybrid-electric cars helps ensure the future of the Windsor plant, although demand for the vehicles in the United States will depend on federal environmental policies and the economic damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are more than 60 vehicles on the market that have hybrid powerplants, or internal-combustion engines paired with electric systems, a number expected to rise to 160 in four years. By 2027, hybrids and all-electric vehicles will comprise 20 per cent of the U.S. market, which buys 80 per cent of Canadian vehicle output, Ms. Dziczek said.

“It was a priority for Unifor to be making electrified and electric vehicles in their plant so that they weren’t stuck making vehicles that were not going to be around [in] a while,” Ms. Dziczek said, referring to the Brampton plant’s rear-wheel drive sports cars and Windsor’s minivans, a segment abandoned by General Motors and Ford because of declining sales. “They wanted to have a modern product. That’s the pathway to job security, to have a product that you think will sell.”

LouAnn Gosselin, a spokeswoman for FCA, confirmed a tentative agreement had been reached. She declined to provide details prior to ratification.

Unifor went into the fall round of negotiations with the Detroit Three with the stated intent of saving jobs and assembly lines, attempting to halt a decline in auto jobs and production, which dipped to a 10-year low of 1.95 million vehicles in 2019. The final talks, with General Motors Co., begin next week.

Unifor says it has reached a tentative agreement for 9,000 workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Canada, averting a strike at six plants across the country. The Canadian Press

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