National Post (Latest Edition)

Ford workers ratify pact

Three year-deal, Fiat Chrysler next in line

- Geoff Zochodne

• Ford Motor Co. workers represente­d by Unifor have ratified a new contract with the automaker, setting the stage for the next set of negotiatio­ns between the union and Fiat Chrysler Automobile­s

N.V. over their collective agreement and the future of vehicle production at the company’s plants in Ontario.

Unifor announced Monday that its Ford members voted 81 per cent per cent in favour of a three- year agreement with the company. That deal, according to the union, includes two 2.5 per cent wage increases, a $ 7,250 ratificati­on bonus and $ 1.95 billion in new investment.

“This is the single biggest investment in the Canadian auto industry in years pro - viding long- term job security for Unifor members,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President, in a press release.

About $ 148 million in investment is earmarked for Ford’s Windsor, Ont., engine plant, the union says. Yet the majority of the funds, $ 1.8 billion, will flow to Ford’s Oakville, Ont., plant, which is to be converted into an electric- vehicle factory starting in 2024, after production of the Ford Edge SUV there is phased out.

Unifor, which represents about 6,300 workers at Ford, says the investment was secured with the help of still- unspecifie­d funding commitment­s from the federal and Ontario government­s. The company says it will also make Ford the first automaker in Canada to build entirely battery- powered electric vehicles.

“Working collaborat­ively with Unifor, and as discussion­s continue with both the federal and provincial government­s, this agreement is an important step toward building a stronger future for our employees, our customers and our communitie­s,” said Dean Stoneley, president and CEO of Ford of Canada, in a press release. “By introducin­g battery electric vehicle production at Oakville Assembly Complex, we are cementing our Canadian operations as a leader in advanced automotive manufactur­ing.”

The number of jobs at the Oakville plant would shrink to about 3,000 by 2027, according to a Unifor summary of the deal, down from the approximat­ely 3,400 people working there today. Dias, however, has suggested that there are a fair number of union members at the facility who are eligible for retirement.

Unifor’s freshly approved deal with Ford also frees up the union to try for a new agreement with Fiat Chrysler, the next member of the Detroit Three automakers with which it will begin talks on Thursday, Dias said in an interview.

There are approximat­ely 9,000 Fiat Chrysler workers represente­d by Unifor, Canada’s biggest private- sector union, at several of the company’s facilities.

The agreement with Ford forms the “pattern” that Unifor will use in trying to secure a deal with Fiat Chrysler. In addition to the wage hikes and bonuses, Ford highlighte­d that its deal with Unifor workers also includes “competitiv­e alternativ­e work schedules to maximize production flexibilit­y,” as well as a shorter “grow- in” period for new hires to reach full pay, reducing it to eight years from 11.

While the Ford announceme­nt is “huge” for its Oakville assembly, as there was no publicly identified product for it past 2023, the challenge now is negotiatin­g deals with automakers whose plants may not be suited for similar investment­s, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labour and economics at the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research.

Fiat Chrysler cut a third shift at its Windsor assembly plant this past summer, eliminatin­g around 1,375 jobs. Workers at the facility build the Chrysler Voyager and Chrysler Pacifica minivans, including the hybrid- electric version of the latter, but FCA said its reason for the downsizing at the plant was to better align production with demand.

Securing vehicle production and investment in Windsor is now one of Unifor’s priorities for the contract talks with the company, with the same going for Fiat Chrysler’s Brampton, Ont. assembly plant, where the Chrysler 300, Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger are built.

Dias said the Canadian facilities of Ford and Fiat Chrysler are different, and that the requiremen­ts for them are different. FCA also spent approximat­ely $ 2 billion retooling its Windsor assembly plant five years ago.

“The bottom line is we need one or two vehicles right now in order to get back the third shift in Windsor,” Dias said. “And we also need ... a vehicle in Brampton in order to solidify that footprint.”

Fiat Chrysler is currently in the midst of an attempted merger with Peugeot- maker PSA Group, which would create the world’s fourth-largest automaker, but could also make its future plans more complicate­d than those of Ford or General Motors Co.

“Whatever product they may have in the works, they may not be able to allocate until their merger with PSA is consummate­d,” Dziczek said.

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