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Unifor has announced Ford Motor Co. is the Big Three automaker the union will move forward with, guiding labour negotiations ahead of a strike deadline later this month.
Unifor National President Jerry Dias made the announcement Tuesday morning in Toronto, as the country’s largest private-sector union pushes for new product commitments made at Canadian plants — especially electric vehicles — and calls on government to invest in a national auto strategy.
“I chose Ford because it is important that Ford understands what our vision is in the short and long term,” Dias said during the press conference.
“The conversations I’ve had with Ford [leaders] have been instrumental in the decision …. the bottom line is the group that is most vulnerable is the workers in Oakville.”
The union made the choice over Fiat Chrysler and General Motors Co., and will negotiate with Ford Motor Co. until its strike deadline on Sept. 21 at 11:59 p.m. The deal will serve as a pattern for the agreements made with the other two manufacturers on issues like wages, pensions and benefits.
The negotiations, which take place every four years, come as Ford employees face expiring product lines in Oakville, Ont., while Fiat Chrysler workers have seen shift cuts in Windsor and Brampton.
Dias said the Ford Edge, manufactured in Oakville, is set to roll off assembly lines in 2023 with no product replacement coming down the pipe.
“I also felt obliged that our leadership in Oakville, our members in Oakville deserve to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to determining their own fate.”
He said it was important to the union’s selection that the company chosen “understood we need product,” and “understood the importance of their footprint to the community.”
In an email Tuesday, Ford’s vice-president of human resources Ryan Kantautas told CBC News that “Ford of Canada has a long history of working collaboratively with Unifor and looks forward to reaching a collective agreement in order to remain operationally competitive amidst intense global competition.
In light of global economic uncertainties, it’s more important than ever to maintain jobs in Canada. We’ll be asking our employees to work with us to help shape this new reality.”
Union pushing for government support, electric innovation
Dias has continually touted the importance of the auto sector as one of Canada’s main manufacturing drivers, and is once again calling on provincial and federal governments to adopt a national auto strategy.
“The auto industry is critical to the manufacturing industry in this country,” Dias said, adding governments have to step up “in order to make this work.”
Dias suggested the federal government use the Strategic Innovation Fund or green infrastructure funding to better support the auto industry in Canada.
“I would argue that these two funds — if you’re talking about a transformation and you’re talking about a green economy … what better place to start than your lead manufacturing industry.”
Unifor members give strong strike mandate
Unifor says it will target the company that offers the best prospects of job security to workers, and that if no deal is reached, workers have voted to support a potential strike.
At the end August, a majority of votes from union members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (98.4 per cent voted in favour), Ford Motor Company (96.4 per cent voted in favour) and General Motors (95.3 per cent in favour) showed that members will allow their bargaining committees to move forward with strike action.
“Our members voted overwhelmingly to support their bargaining committees and our bargaining priorities including, job security, product commitments and economic gains for all members” Dias said in a news release at the time.
“We will continue to push our agenda at the bargaining table, but remind government that they have an active role to play in securing our auto industry’s future. A future made in Canada.”
Unifor began formal contract talks with the Detroit Big Three in Toronto on Aug. 12