Unifor, FCA deal will bring second product line, 2,000 jobs to Windsor Assembly

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Windsor Star/Julie Kotsis




Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Canada has agreed to invest between $1.3 and $1.5 billion for an additional product at the Windsor Assembly Plant as part of a tentative deal reached with Unifor late Wednesday evening that will lead to the creation of 2,000 jobs.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias made the announcement during a news conference Thursday morning in Toronto where bargaining took place.

Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy, lead negotiator for workers at FCA’s Windsor Assembly Plant where the priority goal was to secure a second product to build alongside the Pacifica minivan and return to a three-shift operation, said the deal was reached prior to Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline.

“Obviously I can’t go into detail but I can tell you I have been on record and told my members and anybody that will listen that I’m not bringing (a) deal back to them without vehicle allocations to Windsor,” Cassidy said early Thursday morning. “And you can take that for what it is.”

Virtual ratification meetings and voting begin Sunday at 9 a.m. Members will be able to access highlight via Unifor’s website beginning at 7 a.m. Sunday.

Voting will take place over a 24-hour period.

Asked if he’s feeling confident the deal will be accepted by his membership, Cassidy said, “Oh yes, a hundred per cent. I feel very confident.”

It was a long few weeks for the bargaining committees and Cassidy said they dealt with push back from the FCA bargaining team over matching the pattern set recently by Unifor and Ford Canada.

“We continued to hear the spiel about, that they’re at a disadvantage to meet the pattern because they have that many members in Canada over Ford,” he said. “Our message was clear to them from day one, ‘Well you could have lead.’

“I was the biggest cheerleader going after Jerry to have us lead. I had t-shirts made. I tried everything possible to have Jerry pick us and I think he really wanted to pick us. But after he did his probing and everything else Ford was the one who showed the interest.

“It didn’t bode well for Chrysler when they came and cried foul or anything like that at the table. They had their chance.”

Approximately 1,500 jobs were lost and 425 workers went on indefinite layoff due to the third shift cancellation at Windsor Assembly. Some 700 workers accepted a buyout package from the company.

Unifor represents 9,000 workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Canada and was also looking to secure new product for FCA’s Brampton plant where the Challenger, Charger and Chrysler 300 are produced along with investment in the company’s casting plant in Etobicoke.

Unifor began negotiations with FCA Canada Oct. 1 in Toronto, following the ratification of a three-year deal negotiated with Ford Canada that set the pattern for Detroit 3 bargaining.

Among the highlights of the Ford deal locally were $148 million in new investment in Windsor for the 6X engine that goes into production in 2022, with a third shift and about 120 jobs being added to Ford’s Annex Engine Plant.

The deal will also result in five new electric vehicles being built at Ford’s Oakville Plant.

Economic gains were also made.

The new-hire salary grid reduced by three years from the 11 it previously took to reach the top level and new hires start at 65 per cent of top assembly wages – up from 61.25 per cent.

Workers will receive a 2.5 per cent wage increase and a $7,250 bonus in the first year.  By the end of the deal, the salary grid will start at $24.26 and rise to $37.33. Currently the grid is $20.92 to $35.33.

Skilled trades (based on an electrician’s wages) will see a rise from a base of $41.88 to $44.77 over the course of the agreement.

Current employees will also get inflation protections in the form of $2,000 bonuses in each of years two and three of the contract.

The shift premiums of five and 10 per cent for afternoon and midnight shifts were restored as was the traditional 20 per cent wage gap between skilled trades and production workers.

Negotiations with all three automakers opened Aug. 14 in Toronto.

Just prior to the launch of talks, Dias said a new product and investment in Canadian plants would be the price tag for labour peace.

“No question that is exactly what has to happen,” Dias said when asked if all contract settlements with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford and General Motors had to contain product commitments for companies to avoid potential strike action.

“The key issue is to negotiate new products for our plants.”

Unifor held a strike a vote Aug. 31 in which FCA workers voted 98.4 per cent in favour of handing Unifor negotiators a strike mandate.