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CAW, Detroit 3 talks stumble as union rejects proposals

September 6, 2012
CAW, Detroit 3 talks stumble as union rejects proposals
By BRYCE G. HOFFMAN / The Detroit News
Talks between the Canadian Auto Workers and the three Detroit automakers appeared to run into trouble Wednesday, with the union threatening to strike General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.

The CAW has rejected proposals from all three automakers, according to a source close to the negotiations who said the car companies are upset by the union’s decision to negotiate in the press, as that person called it. The source said the future of auto manufacturing in Canada will be called into question if the CAW makes good on its threats.

But the union says GM, Ford and Chrysler have left it with little choice.

“(N)one of the three companies have demonstrated that they are serious about reaching an agreement,” the CAW said in a leaflet distributed to workers in factories across Canada on Wednesday. “Our committees from General Motors, Chrysler and Ford have been meeting with each company over the last week, with little progress being made. All committees have come up against the same barrier. The corporations are refusing to add any costs whatsoever — instead, they insist on cutting costs from our existing agreements.”

All three Detroit automakers went into these talks saying Canadian labor costs were unacceptably high — partly because of the strong looney, partly because of the wages and benefits Canadian workers enjoy. But they are still sticking to a conciliatory chord.

“We continue to have an open and constructive dialogue with our CAW partners,” said GM spokeswoman Adria MacKenzie in an email Wednesday. “We are optimistic that we can continue to work together to overcome challenges, find creative solutions and improve our competitive position.”

GM CEO Dan Akerson has said it cost his company more to produce cars in Canada than anywhere else in the world.

Chrysler said it had no comment on the talks, but Fiat-Chrysler Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne has gone on record as saying he will not sign any agreement that adds to the company’s fixed costs.

Ford did not respond to requests for comment, but the Dearborn automaker has also said Canadian labor costs are too high and has called on Canadian workers to embrace the sort of competitive changes that their counterparts in the United Auto Workers approved in their recent contract negotiations.

CAW President Ken Lewenza has rejected key elements of that accord, such as profit sharing in lieu of wage increases or cost-of-living adjustments. But he has also said Canadian workers need to be realistic about what is possible at the bargaining table today.

Talks on a new national contract with all three Detroit manufacturers began last month in Toronto. The CAW traditionally picks one company to negotiate with after the Labor Day break, but union leaders said they would not do that this year because none of the companies had made an offer it considered promising.

The CAW, which represents about 20,000 auto workers north of the border, said it is prepared to strike if it cannot reach agreements with the companies by the Sept. 17 deadline.

“(T)he corporations fail to recognize the sacrifices our members at General Motors, Chrysler and Ford made during the economic crisis,” the CAW said. “This week local unions across the three chains will be asked to form strike committees and start preparations for strike actions.”

All three companies’ Canadian workforces have declined for the past eight years. The source said those declines will continue if the CAW makes good on its threat, but added that Canadian factories could begin hiring again if workers there make the same sort of competitive compromises that U.S. autoworkers did last fall.

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