Lana Payne on Unifor-Ford tentative agreement reached
Unifor has set Oct. 9 at 11:59 p.m. as the deadline for contract talks with General Motors as union leadership look to secure terms that will be accepted by both the company and union members.
Negotiations between the union and the U.S. automaker resumed this week after workers at Ford Motor Co. of Canada voted to approve a new contract last weekend.
Lana Payne, president of Unifor, has hailed the Ford contract as life changing for workers as it makes historic wage gains and other benefit improvements.
The Ford contract, however, was only ratified by 54 per cent of workers, and skilled trades workers in Oakville and Windsor did not vote in favour, which has raised questions about how much support GM workers will give to similar terms.
"The skilled trades revolt at Ford will likely spill over into GM and Stellantis bargaining," said Larry Savage, chair of the labour studies department at Brock University, by email.
He noted that voting at Ford showed a generational divide, with workers near retirement age more likely to oppose the tentative agreement based on concerns over pension improvements.
But GM has a younger workforce demographic, in part thanks to the relatively recent hires at the company's Oshawa plant. The company shut down operations at the end of 2019, only to reopen it with many new workers in 2021.
Younger workers secured numerous improvements in the Ford contract, including upfront pay gains, a shorter path to the full pay level, and a higher wage floor.
"For the next generation of autoworkers, this contract is a game changer, no doubt about it," said Jim Stanford, labour economist and director of the Centre for Future Work.
Unifor contract talks are also happening as the United Auto Workers union in the U.S. is also working to secure new contracts.
The U.S. union started strike action against the Derioit Three on Sept. 15 before expanding it last week, and again on Friday.
The aggressive stance of the union, both in its escalating strikes and its demands for 40 per cent wage gains, has raised concerns from some Unifor members that their union hasn't pushed hard enough.
Stanford however cautioned against direct comparisons with what's going on in the U.S., noting that the UAW contract spans more than four years so the headline wage gain figure looks higher.
He also noted that the UAW hasn't secure a contract with any guaranteed gains yet.
"The fact that the UAW strike is continuing will remind people that collective bargaining is hard, and you can't take anything for granted."
It's also still not clear yet how receptive the other two Detroit automakers will be to the terms reached with Ford, said Stanford.
"Given the size of the economic gains in this agreement, it is not a foregone conclusion that either GM or Stellantis will roll over and accept it," he said.
GM has said simply that it looks forward to "working with our Unifor partners to build a competitive future that also recognizes our employees’ contributions to our shared success."
The GM talks cover about 4,300 workers at the automaker's St. Catharines Powertrain Plant, the Oshawa Assembly Complex and the Woodstock Parts Distribution Centre.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2023.