Negotiators at Unifor and Stellantis NV STLA-N reached a tentative agreement on Monday morning, ending a seven-hour strike at the automaker’s Canadian plants and setting the stage for ratification votes that end next Monday.
Union leaders called the strike at midnight Sunday after failing to reach an agreement, but both sides stayed at the table through the early hours of Monday morning.
“This is the best agreement our members have ever seen,” James Stewart, chairman of Unifor’s bargaining committee, said at a Toronto news conference on Monday.
Mark Stewart, Stellantis’s North American chief operating officer, said the deal rewards employees while protecting the long-term financial prospects of the Canadian operations.
The agreement, which must be approved by a majority of the 8,230 Stellantis employees, matches deals ratified in recent weeks by Unifor members at the other two Detroit-based automakers, Ford Motor Co. F-N and General Motors Co GM-N.
The agreement raises hourly wages by 19 per cent over three years to $44.50 for production workers, and by 25 per cent to $56 for skilled trades workers. Pensions were improved for the first time in 15 years.
“We also very importantly fended off outsourcing of jobs at our parts distribution centres and the elimination of jobs in our office and engineering units,” said Lana Payne, Unifor national president.
Unifor, like many unions, negotiates similar deals with similar employers, known as pattern agreements.
Despite the union’s claims that the Detroit Three agreements will raise standards of living for all members, ratification of the Stellantis deal might not be assured.
The Ford contract was approved in September by just 54 per cent of members. Older workers and skilled tradespeople expected better pension provisions and wages after years of concessions that propped up the automakers. Many felt the agreement’s wage increases were not enough given the fast pace of inflation.
Dave Cassidy, an influential Unifor leader who represents 4,800 workers at Stellantis’s Windsor, Ont., minivan plant and is chairman of Unifor’s skilled trades group, said on Oct. 2 the pattern agreement’s pay and pensions provisions must be improved before it wins his support. Mr. Cassidy, who could not be reached on Monday, was among the negotiators who agreed to the deal with Stellantis. He said in a video posted to Facebook he is “very happy to bring back the deal” to his Windsor members. Details, he said will be presented at coming union meetings.
Larry Savage, a labour studies professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., said Mr. Cassidy’s apparent support signals the deal will be approved.
“The leadership of the national union understood that getting Cassidy on side was key to securing a tentative agreement that stood a chance at being ratified,” Prof. Savage said. “Given Cassidy is personally backing the tentative agreement, we can safely assume that any strong organized opposition to the deal is likely to fall by the wayside.”
In Canada, Stellantis is the last of the Detroit Three to bargain with Unifor, which represents 20,000 workers at the automakers. Stellantis, whose brands include Jeep, Ram and Chrysler, is Unifor’s largest automotive employer.
Unifor represents workers at Stellantis’s Windsor minivan plant, Brampton, Ont., muscle car factory and Toronto casting facility, in addition to five distribution centres and offices.
In the U.S., Stellantis and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union on Saturday reached a tentative agreement that ended a six-week strike at target plants. Ford and GM have reached similar deals with the UAW. Both agreements require approval of the union members.
The UAW contracts raise workers’ wages by about 30 per cent over 4½ years.
Steven Tufts, a professor at York University who specializes in the role of unions in regional development, said the UAW’s gains outpaced those of Unifor, but the U.S. union started from a lower base. Still, Prof. Tufts described both unions’ deals as “generational” improvements for autoworkers. “We’re not going to see anything like this for a few rounds of bargaining,” he said.