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Start of negotiations with Ford, GM, Fiat Chrysler in the middle of COVID-19 in Canada

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Unifor National President Jerry Dias is welcomed to the Renaissance Center in Detroit on Thursday, December 20, 2018. He was scheduled to meet with General Motors executives regarding the future of the Oshawa assembly plant in Canada. (Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)

Jerry Dias is full of praise for the Detroit Three automakers, while warning that Canadian consumers are punishing companies for breaking their promises or giving up business across the border.

He recently began talks on a four-year contract as president of Unifor, which will impact thousands of auto workers in this exceptionally uncertain economic environment that included a two-month layoff linked to the coronavirus.

Union leaders will not pretend that leaders do not pocket millions; The burden of industry change must be shared rather than thrown on hourly factory workers, he said.

“I don’t see us being bridesmaids and picking up the falls,” said Dias, 61, a former sheet metal worker from Toronto who has led the union for almost seven years.

Although smaller than the US market, Canada and its consumers are important, he noted. “The bottom line is that Canadian consumers are punishing those who don’t build here. “

Wage talks will continue in mid-July and Unifor will select the company that sets the model contract for all auto companies by Labor Day.

Like the collective bargaining done by the UAW for about 150,000 auto workers in the United States, Unifor negotiates the key elements of the contract with an automaker, and then sets the blueprint for the rest as part of the collective bargaining process .

No strikes, no promises

Last year’s wage negotiations with the UAW failed and led to a 40-day strike against General Motors. After that, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ratified the agreements without incident.

Unifor has not threatened a strike but makes no promises.

“We are in the preliminary discussion,” said Dias. “It all depends on these conversations. These companies will have to decide if they want to lead or follow. … I prefer to control my own destiny than to control it for myself. It’s about who has vision and who moves. beyond today’s challenges. ”

Unifor has fought and won in the past, most recently with GM in 2018. The company has announced plans to close its Oshawa plant, but Unifor has negotiated to keep it open to build spare parts while maintaining the integrity of the plant, allowing the potential for future manufacturing.

Industry forecasters have suggested that Ford may consider shutting down the Oakville assembly plant that builds the Ford Edge. The current Edge model and the Lincoln Nautilus are expected to be built in 2023. Dias says he is actively looking for answers.

“Any fool can fight”

“There is no doubt that they are evaluating their entire portfolio,” he said. “A pandemic puts things under a bigger microscope. We are headed for a period of record sales declines based on all forecasts. The environment is different today than it was a year ago. “

Ford planned to invest in a major plant in 2022 and has been pushed back to 2023, Dias said. “We know that while we are sitting here, nothing is officially announced for 2023 … just expectations based on conversations. The next generation of Edge was going to be ours. I would rather have the leak out now and have a conversation with Ford than go cold bargaining. ”

He stifled any notion of drama.

“We know how to fight. In the end, look, any fool can fight, “he said. “Most importantly, we know how to settle and find a solution. I am not going to allow companies that have been printing money for a decade to try to take advantage of today’s economic situation that will have an economic impact three to four years from now. “

What Unifor should consider regarding the Oakville Assembly complex in Ontario is simply a “stay of execution for the current generation Edge for another year,” said Joe McCabe, CEO of Chester Springs-based AutoForecast Solutions , in Pennsylvania.

His company predicted in mid-June that the new generation of Edge had been canceled.

‘Death watch’

Meanwhile, a Ford spokesperson has neither confirmed nor denied whether Edge’s plans in Oakville have changed, whether there is a future product planned for the Oakville plant after 2023, or whether the Oakville plant closes.

“Oakville is going to need some kind of investment to have long-term viability. You have to throw money at it, “said McCabe. “It is essentially under surveillance. “

Joe McCabe, CEO of AutoForecast Solutions, questions the future of the Ford Edge plant in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He is pictured here in October 2019. (Photo: Joe McCabe)

Unifor represents approximately 6,300 Ford workers at five sites, including 4,200 at the Oakville plant. The union represents 35,000 auto workers overall, including 20,000 employed by the Detroit Three.

It is premature to speak of a possible strike at the factories in Windsor and Essex, which build engines for the popular Ford Mustangs, F-Series and Super Duty.

“Oakville is their last assembly plant, full stop,” he said. “So the question becomes, Ford – at a time when it is much cheaper to build a car in Canada than in the United States – why would they shut down the Oakville plant and infuriate Canadian customers? “

More: The future of the new Ford Edge is uncertain as the company begins labor talks in Canada

More: Canadian union denounces GM in announcements about plant closure in Oshawa

More: The US auto industry is preparing for a restart – and it all depends on Mexico

Meanwhile, union negotiators from the FCA, GM and Ford stressed the potential for collaboration in the statements provided to Free Press.

LouAnn Gosselin, chief communications officer for Fiat Chrysler Canada, said, “We are optimistic that we will be able to reach a collective agreement that will support the company’s competitiveness in Canada.”

Jennifer J. Wright, Director of Communications for General Motors, Canada, said, “We look forward to working with our Unifor partners to create a competitive employment contract for our operations in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Woodstock.”

Ford’s spokesperson said, “We look forward to working with our Unifor partners to build a solid future for automobile manufacturing in Canada. “

No way, Unifor has a reputation for playing hardball. Its union leader speaks regularly and directly to the media without filtering, accessible seven days a week.

‘No… left at the altar’

When GM announced plans to close the plant two years ago, the union created a SuperBowl ad to distort the decision, saying that GM had broken the trust of Canadians. Dias will not make any promises.

“I don’t bend an iota’s hand. It’s much too early, ”he said. “There is still a lot of work to do before knowing who runs the horse race. The Detroit Three understand where we are and our concern for stability. “

Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, which represents 35,000 auto workers, said members will not be “left behind” in contract negotiations. (Photo: Kimberly P. Mitchell, Detroit Free Press)

In addition, auto plants in Canada lack the anxiety and absences associated with COVID-19 that seem to be crippling the United States and Mexico, said Dias, in part because Canada’s leaders are more coordinated in their efforts to resolve the problem.

“In the United States, it comes down to the Trump factor. He missed that right from the start, ”said Dias. “Look at illness and death. There is a much deeper concern among workers in the United States “

The UAW has entered into a competitive agreement and Unifor will do the same, said Dias.

“The auto industry is changing a penny. I understand. Start a pandemic and things will change even more, “he said. “But somehow we’re not going to stay at the altar. “

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard at 313-222-6512or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid. Subscribe to our automotive newsletter.

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