Ford-Unifor deal to 'transform' Windsor engine plants

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Windsor Star/Grace Macaluso

A tentative contract between Unifor and Ford of Canada awards a “major engine program” worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Windsor engine plants, Jerry Dias, the union’s national president, said early Tuesday morning.

“We will be transforming the Essex Plant from what would be categorized as a ‘C’ plant in the Ford world to an ‘A’ plant, which puts our Windsor facilities at the top of the food chain for powertrain operations,” said Dias.

“This new engine will be the highest technology, the most fuel efficient, more horsepower and be put into Ford’s No. 1 selling vehicles throughout the North American chain.”

Under the deal, Ford promised to invest $700 million in its Canadian plants, with “the overwhelming majority” going to the Windsor engine operations, said Dias.

The rest of that amount  will be spent on a “refresh” of vehicles assembled at the Oakville Assembly Plant, which builds the Ford Edge SUV along with Lincoln MKX and MKT. The plant also builds the Ford Flex, but that vehicle will be discontinued in 2020, said Bob Scott, vice-chair of the master bargaining committee said.

The new deal, patterned after four-year agreements recently reached with General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, was announced about a half hour after Monday’s 11:59 p.m. strike deadline.

It also included economic gains that exceeded those in the GM and FCA deals, said Dias.

“There’s the pattern and things we can accomplish outside of the pattern that are unique to each individual company,” he said. “Are there gains over and above? The answer is clearly yes.”

Dias would not disclose details, saying they would be unveiled to the membership at ratification votes slated for Saturday and Sunday. But he admitted that the richer economic package was designed to quell opposition to the pattern deal among members of the Oakville union, which represents 5,000 hourly workers.

Notable by his absence at the press conference was Local 707 president Dave Thomas, who has publicly opposed the GM pattern deal. When asked whether Thomas would support the tentative deal, Dias said Thomas was a “team player” who understood the importance of pattern bargaining.

The Ford negotiations cap a round of bargaining that focused on solidifying the Canadian manufacturing footprint of the Detroit Three. Agreements with Ford and Fiat Chrysler included plant investments totalling almost $1 billion.

“The 2016 negotiations on behalf of our members were an incredible success,” said Dias, who repeated calls for a national auto strategy. “We have reached agreements with the Detroit Three where they are investing and we are moving forward. But in order for us to make the next steps, we are going to need our governments to understand the important role they must play.”

Chris Taylor, president of Local 200, which represents about 1,400 hourly workers at the Essex Engine and Windsor Engine plants, said the agreement means job security for his members.

“It’s been a long road,” said Taylor. “This bargaining committee faced a lot of challenges. But one thing that never left us was that this is about our members, our communities, our jobs, our livelihoods. When this thing came together there was a sigh of relief that came from all of us.”

Neither Dias nor Taylor would elaborate on the new engine program, saying details would be unveiled to members at the ratification vote slated for Sunday.

But Taylor said the investment would benefit all of Ford’s Windsor operations and “go a long, long way in solidifying a lot of jobs in Windsor, It’s about the whole site. When our members see this program, they will be extremely pleased,” he said.

Taylor also said he was “confident”  that the Windsor Engine plant will  continue to build the 6.8 litre engine throughout the life of the deal.

“We’ve known that it’s going to be phased out, but there are different plans in place and we are very  confident that the program will continue longer that we expected.”

Retooling at the Essex Engine plant will start in mid-2018 with a production launch expected sometime in 2019 or 2020, said Taylor.

“We have lots of open space in our Windsor facilities,” he said. “There’s a lot of activity currently going on at Essex Engine plant and we want to make sure we fill up as much of our sites as we possible can.”

The union was able to fend off company demands for a new category of full-time temporary workers, said Dias.

But it did not succeed in meeting two key demands from the Oakville union — reducing the new-hire pay grid from 10 to eight years and preserving the hybrid pension plan for new hires, said Scott.

“There’s things in this agreement that we don’t like,” said Scott. “But we believe we bargained the best agreement that we have seen in a very long time. We have some incredible gains we’re going to take back to our members and we are quite sure they will be happy.”