Ford Named Strike Target in Canadian Labor-Contract Negotiations

Canada’s largest private-sector union selected Ford Motor Co. to negotiate a new three-year labor contract that will set the wage and benefit pattern for most of its 17,000 members who work for all three of Detroit’s major carmakers.

The deadline to reach an agreement before a possible strike is Sept. 21, Jerry Dias, president of the Unifor labor union, said at a press conference in Toronto Tuesday. Ford said it will aim to reach a deal that accounts for the competitive challenges it faces.

“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,” Ryan Kantautas, vice president of human resources at Ford’s Canadian unit, said in a statement.

Unifor’s decision to target Ford comes as the automaker mulls what to do with an assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, that has lost two key models -- and may lose another. That factory used to make the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT and currently manufacturers only two vehicles: the Lincoln Nautilus and Ford Edge.

The Flex and MKT were canceled last year, and Nautilus production is scheduled to move to China after 2023, according to researcher AutoForecast Solutions.

“The biggest obstacle for us is Ford in Oakville, based on the end of production of the Ford Edge,” Unifor’s Dias said. “It also creates the biggest opportunity.”

An agreement with Ford will set a pattern that will be followed by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and most of General Motors Co.’s operations in Canada. Workers at GM’s small-SUV plant in Ingersoll, Ontario receive compensation that is set under a separate agreement.

Unifor is seeking a three-year rather than four-year contract so it can align future negotiations with the United Auto Workers in the U.S. Doing so could give it more leverage over the Detroit Three.

The UAW concluded its latest contract last year after an almost six-week-long strike against GM.

Given painful closures like the shuttering of GM’s Oshawa plant last year and the loss of a third shift at Fiat Chrysler’s Windsor assembly plant, job security is likely to take precedent over wage gains, Colin Lightbody, a former labor negotiator for Fiat Chrysler and current consultant in Windsor, Canada, said before Unifor’s announcement.

Ford indicated it understands the importance of job security to its Canadian workers heading into the talks.

“In light of global economic uncertainties, it’s more important than ever to maintain jobs in Canada,” Kantautas said. “We’ll be asking our employees to work with us to help shape this new reality.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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