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Talks making headway with GM, Chrysler lagging: CAW

If a company refuses to meet the pattern agreement established by one of its rivals, the union will go on strike, says CAW chief Ken Lewenza, seen here at a news conference in Toronto on Sept. 17, 2012.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian Auto Workers union is closer to a new deal with General Motors Co. than it is with Chrysler Group LLC, union officials said Wednesday afternoon as they tried to wrap up negotiations on a new contract with the Detroit Three auto makers.

"Talks with GM have bogged down on some local issues," Peter Kennedy, the CAW's secretary-treasurer said. It's not clear when those will be resolved, Mr. Kennedy said, noting that union and company officials were trying to get them solved.

The union is trying to secure agreements from both companies that match the terms of a contract it negotiated earlier this week with Ford Motor Co.

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The union is pushing Chrysler and GM to match the Ford deal in what is known as pattern bargaining, where an agreement reached with one of the Detroit Three auto makers serves as a template for all of them.

"The facts of the matter is the company hasn't met the pattern," CAW president Ken Lewenza said earlier Wednesday about GM, which submitted a proposal to the CAW that seeks ways of offsetting the costs of the deal the union and Ford signed.

If a company refuses to meet the pattern agreement established by one of its rivals, the union will go on strike.

As for Chrysler, "I think Chrysler is waiting to see what happens with GM," Mr. Lewenza said outside the downtown Toronto hotel where the union and officials from all three companies have been meeting since mid-August.

The GM talks are hung up on local issues that include language in the contract regarding work standards and job security for skilled trades workers.

Mr. Lewenza said morning discussions with GM on Wednesday were the equivalent of  "pushing against a 100 mile an hour wind."

Another key issue in the GM talks is the union's attempt to convince the auto maker to reverse its decision to close one of its assembly plants in Oshawa, Ont., a shutdown that is scheduled to begin later this year and will eliminate more than 2,000 jobs.

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"Our objective is to keep that plant running as long as we possibly can," Mr. Lewenza said, noting that the union has been unsuccessful at the bargaining table in convincing GM to keep it open.

The union leader said he's not yet ready to notify Chrysler and GM that a strike at their plants will begin in 24 hours.

The CAW extended its contracts with the two companies after reaching the deal with Ford on Monday.

At the time, the union agreed to the companies' request for more time to study the Ford agreement and assess how it would affect their operations.

The four-year tentative agreement with Ford calls for a four-year wage freeze, a signing bonus of $3,000 and annual bonuses of $2,000 in each of the second, third and fourth years of the contract. Cost-of-living adjustments are suspended until the final quarter of the final year of the deal.

Ford will hire about 600 workers – most of them at its assembly plant in Oakville, Ont., where it will start a partial third shift as soon as possible, and in 2014 begin assembling a new generation of the crossovers now made at the plant.

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The union agreed to cut the starting wage rate for newly hired employees to about $20 and hour from $24 and stretch out the time it takes them to reach the full rate of $34 to 10 years from six. A new hybrid pension plan that combines defined benefits and defined contributions will also help reduce hourly labour costs of newly hired employees.

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More


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