The Canadian Auto Workers’ union (CAW) is the largest private sector union in the country with over 200,000 members. On September 5, it announced that it would strike General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, if contract talks do not progress.
This is the first time in its history that the CAW threatens to strike all three Detroit carmakers at the same time. The last strike organized by CAW was in 1996 against GM.
The union announced that all of its members will go on strike, since 99 percent of Chrysler Canada, 98 percent of General Motors of Canada and 97 percent of Ford Canada have voted in favor of the move.
“Our members support their bargaining committees and trust them to negotiate a fair settlement that shares in the success of the companies”, said CAW president Ken Lewenza.
If a deal is not reached by September 17, 11:59 p.m., when the current CAW contracts with the automaker expires then, as a leaflet from the union said, they will “shut down operations at all three”.
In the past, the CAW typically started negotiating with one carmaker, hoping that the other two would follow its lead. This time, though, it has changed its practice something that labor consultant and former GM labor negotiator Art Schwartz says, is “highly unusual”.
That’s because when the union focuses on one company, the threat is that its production will halt while its rivals will keep operating as usual. Schwartz adds that intimidating to strike all three gives them maximum flexibility: “They could strike everybody, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to.”
Ford spokeswoman Lauren More said that the company is “committed to working with CAW” in order “to improve the competitiveness of its Canadian operations”.
Chrysler Canada declined to comment and GM couldn’t be reached, according to Reuters. Nevertheless, all three have said that Canada is the most expensive place in the world to manufacture cars.
The union’s response is that the workers who helped those companies stay alive through the financial crisis should share some of their wealth now that they are profitable.
“The corporations are refusing to add any costs whatsoever”, said the CAW. “Instead, they insist on cutting costs from our existing agreements.”
Ford’s master bargaining committee chairman Gary Beck commented that the companies were putting “far-fetched” offers on the table and are asking for big concessions on the union’s part.
“We have been sitting down with all three companies and no one has taken the initiative to lead”, said Beck. “This will, hopefully, wake them up.”
By Andrew Tsaousis
Story References: CAW, Reuters