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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Ford averts strike in Canada as talks in US inch along

Members of the UAW pace the entrance gates while on strike outside of the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant, in Wayne, Mich., on Sept. 15, 2023.

By Neal E. Boudette

Negotiations between each of the three large U.S. automakers and the United Auto Workers union remain far from being resolved, but one of the companies — Ford Motor — has averted a second strike in Canada.

Late on Tuesday, the company reached a tentative labor agreement with Unifor, Canada’s main auto union. The deal was announced minutes before an 11:59 p.m. deadline set by the union for a strike by its 5,600 members at Ford.

Neither side disclosed the terms of the agreement, but Unifor said the company had made a “substantive offer.”

“We believe that this agreement will solidify the foundations on which we will continue to bargain gains for generations of autoworkers in Canada,” Unifor’s national president, Lana Payne, said in a statement.

Unifor’s talks with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, Jeep and Ram, started Aug. 10 but have been overshadowed by the UAW contract talks in the United States.

Ford has an assembly plant and two engine plants in Canada. Unifor selected Ford as the “target” of its talks, meaning it focused on securing the best deal it could from the company before turning to the other two automakers. Now, it will seek to strike similar agreements with GM and Stellantis.

Ford’s deal in Canada appears to have little bearing on the UAW strikes in the United States.

On Sept. 14, the UAW told nearly 13,000 workers to leave their jobs at three U.S. plants: a GM pickup truck factory in Wentzville, Missouri; a Ford truck and sport utility vehicle plant in Wayne, Michigan; and a Stellantis SUV plant in Toledo, Ohio.

The talks appear to have progressed only a little since the strikes began last Friday. On Wednesday, the UAW said it was reviewing a new offer from Stellantis but declined to provide details.

The union is seeking a 40% increase in wages over four years, saying the pay of the automakers’ CEOs rose by roughly that much over the previous four years. The companies have offered raises of just over 20%.

The U.S. union also wants more workers to qualify for pension plans, company-paid health care for retirees, shorter working hours and other improvements. And the UAW is seeking an end to a practice under which new hires are paid about $17 an hour — a bit more than half the top union wage of $32 an hour.

At $32 an hour, a UAW member working 40 hours a week is paid about $67,000 a year. In recent years, the companies have paid workers profit-sharing bonuses of $9,000 to $15,000.

Outside Stellantis’ North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, on Wednesday, workers who are not on strike picketed in support of the work stoppage, chanting, “No justice, no Jeeps.”

Josh Boyd, 36, an auto mechanic who works at the headquarters’ technical center, said he was ready to walk out if asked by the union. “There’s always uncertainty, but there’s also excitement,” he said. “I think we’re going to get a good contract.”

Boyd, who carried his young daughter on his shoulder, said that he earned $32 an hour, but that his family of three was stretched. “Day care is $250 a week,” he said. “I’ve got a mortgage. My wife is in school, so we are on one income.”

LaShawn English, who was elected this year as the director of the UAW’s Region 1, which includes parts of Michigan and Canada, said the wage increases offered by the automakers would apply to most but not all workers. Among those who would not get the same raises are temporary workers who make up about 12% of Stellantis’ unionized workforce of 43,000.

“It’s not just about the higher-wage workers,” she said. “We have to move everybody forward. We can’t leave people behind.”

Earlier Wednesday, Stellantis presented a new offer to the union but did not disclose details other than to say it primarily addressed issues other than wages. The company also said it had to lay off 68 workers at a machining plant in Ohio, and might have to lay off 300 more in Indiana because of the UAW’s strike at its Toledo plant, which makes Jeeps.

On Tuesday, UAW President Shawn Fain said the union might expand the strike to additional plants this week if it did not make significant progress toward an agreement. Fain is expected to announce additional strike locations Friday morning with workers leaving their jobs at noon.

Separately, the UAW said Wednesday that 190 union members went on strike at a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, plant owned by ZF, a company that supplies axles to Mercedes-Benz.

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