The UAW strike isn’t the only labor issue that U.S. automakers and car buyers have to worry about. Unifor, the union that represents auto workers in Canada, is preparing to strike against Ford on Monday evening.
Ford is not talking about how contract negotiations will go, but Unifor President Lana Payne told CNN on Saturday that the two sides are far apart, especially on financial issues, saying the union rejected the first two offers from Ford.
“We are not close at all. There is a lot of work to be done to reach an agreement by midnight Monday,” Payne said.
Unlike the UAW, which has outlined its initial negotiating demands, including a 40% pay increase over the life of the contract, neither Unifor nor Ford have announced their position on pay raise offers, but the union is looking for significant pay increases. Pension improvements, as well as job security guarantees as the auto industry invests billions in its plans to shift from traditional gasoline-powered cars to electric vehicles in the coming years — are all issues at the heart of negotiations between the UAW and the automakers.
Ford has one assembly plant in Canada, which is located in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, Ontario. The 3,400 Unifor members at the plant produce Ford Edge and Lincoln Nautilus SUVs.
Ford also has two engine plants in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit. The two factories have a total of 1,700 Unifor members.
The plants build the V-8 engines used in Mustangs and the company’s best-selling F-150 truck. While buyers would be able to get V-6 versions of those vehicles if there was a strike, only the Windsor plants would build V-8 engines if the customer wanted them. Edge, Nautilus and V-8 versions of these two flagship Ford products could join the Ford Ranger pickup and Bronco SUV — both made at the Warren, Mich., assembly plant where UAW members shine — as vehicles that could soon be in short supply at dealerships in United States and Canada.
Unifor’s contracts expired at 11:59 p.m. EDT on Monday with all three of the traditional big automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, which build cars for the North American market under the names Jeep, Ram, Dodge and Chrysler. But the union chose Ford as its “target,” focusing on its negotiations with the company and granting contract extensions to the other two companies. Once Unifor reaches a deal with Ford, with or without a strike, it will work to convince the other two companies to accept the Ford deal as a model for those contracts.
The UAW has traditionally followed the same rules of the game, but this year they broke that tradition and went on strike against all three at the same time for the first time in its history. But it also changed previous practice by having 12,700 members go on strike against only one assembly plant at each company, instead of all 145,000 members going on strike at the same time. The union says it is prepared to increase the number of striking factories if it does not make progress in the negotiations.
If the UAW decides to eliminate its engine and transmission plants, it could cease almost all operations of the Big Three in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Even hitting one transmission plant at each company could shut down about 75% of North American production at the three companies, according to industry consultant Jeff Schuster, global head of automotive at GlobalData.
“Two factories per company, you can pretty much keep North America idle,” he said.
Payne said it was clear she was watching the US negotiations carefully as she conducted her own talks with Ford.
This is the first time since 2009 — when General Motors and Chrysler went through bankruptcies and bailouts and Ford was also on the verge of losing cash — that Canadian and American auto unions have negotiated at the same time in a previously unscheduled round of bargaining. Contracts typically expire in different years, but when Unifor negotiated its previous contracts during the pandemic in 2020, a year after the UAW contracts were reached, it asked for a slightly shorter contract to be on the same timeline as the UAW.
Members are demanding significant improvements in both wages and pensions to deal with the high prices they have seen in Canada just as auto workers have done in the United States, Payne said. It expects to eventually reach strong deals given the record or near-record profits across the three automakers. All three automakers are on record as offering UAW increases of 20% over the life of their contracts. They are on strike because the UAW says these offers are not enough to compensate for ground members lost to inflation in recent years. Bain said its members at the three automakers feel the same pain and are demanding similar increases.
“We know our members’ expectations are high,” she said. “(Automakers) have to understand that moment, that we are facing rising prices. The world today is not the same as it was five years ago.”
Ford has traditionally enjoyed good working relationships on both sides of the US-Canada border. The company has not seen an American strike since 1978, nor a Canadian strike since 1990. But Payne said her members at Ford are prepared to strike Monday night if the company does not meet her demands.