October 11, 2016 - 1:10 PM
TORONTO - As the union representing auto workers turns its attention to its final target, Unifor president Jerry Dias says that securing investment for Ford's engine plant in Windsor, Ont., is his top priority.
"Their operations are getting pretty old," Dias said in an interview Tuesday. "We haven't had investment for quite a while, so we need a new engine program."
Now that agreements have been struck with two out of the three automakers, Dias is gearing up for what he predicts will be an "interesting" set of talks with Ford.
Unifor hammered out a tentative deal with Fiat Chrysler just ahead of a strike deadline Monday that will see the automaker invest $554 million in its Ontario plants.
If approved, the four-year deal will also see wages and benefits boosted in line with the pattern established with General Motors last month.
That deal, which has been approved by GM workers, includes a two per cent wage increase this year, another two per cent increase in September 2019 and a $6,000 signing bonus plus lump sum bonuses.
GM also promised to invest $554 million in its Canadian operations, meaning that the lights will stay on at the Oshawa assembly plant that was destined for closure in 2019.
But the union also agreed that new employees will start with a defined contribution pension plan, rather than the hybrid plan for current employees.
"With the investment we now have in Oshawa, we are going to be the only plant in North America that is now going to be able to build pickup trucks and cars," Dias said.
"So in Oshawa we went from the outhouse to the penthouse — so we really are changing things. We're reversing the trend."
Dias is hoping for a similar outcome from the negotiations with Ford.
Those talks are expected to begin on Oct. 17, after Fiat Chrysler workers have voted on their deal.
The strike deadline for the Ford negotiations is Oct. 31, Dias said.
In an email, a Ford spokeswoman said the company "will work collaboratively with Unifor to negotiate a globally competitive collective agreement."
One factor that may complicate the negotiations is that the president of Unifor Local 707 — which represents Ford workers in Oakville, Ont. — has said he isn't prepared to accept the kind of deal that was reached with GM.
Earlier this month, Dave Thomas wrote in a message posted on the local's website that although investment in Canada is the union's top priority in the ongoing talks, the agreement was that it won't come at the expense of other locals.
The local bargaining committee "will not sacrifice the needs of the membership in Oakville and settle on an agreement that doesn't address our issues," Thomas said at the time.
In response, Dias said that it's impossible to make everyone happy.
"If I found a way to make everybody happy then I'll take Tom Cruise's spot in Mission Impossible the sequel," he said.
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016