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CAW shifts focus to GM, Chrysler to match Ford, add jobs

CAW shifts focus to GM, Chrysler to match Ford, add jobs
Ari Altstedter
Automotive News | September 18, 2012 – 7:34 am EST

TORONTO (Bloomberg) — Talks between the Canadian Auto Workers, Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors were extended past a Monday strike deadline as the union said the parties needed more time to reach a deal.

The deadline has been extended indefinitely, and the union will give the companies 24-hours notice if workers plan to strike, CAW President Ken Lewenza told reporters late Monday.

“We can still provide the companies 24 hours notice if in fact we want to strike,” Lewenza said. “Since day one we weren’t looking for a strike we were looking for a settlement.”

The extension with GM and Chrysler comes after the union reached a tentative four-year deal Monday with Ford Motor Co. that mostly eliminated cost-of living raises in favor of bonuses and won 600 new jobs for the union.

The union asked GM and Chrysler to accept the same terms as Ford and threatened a strike if no agreements were reached by the initial deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday.

The Ford deal also provides a signing bonus and annual lump sum payouts in later years, the union said.

The talks cover about 14,200 workers at factories around Ontario which produce models such as GM’s Chevrolet Camaro, and Chrysler Town & Country minivans.

“We have agreed with the CAW to extend the agreement,” Chrysler said in a statement, declining further comment. “We are currently reviewing the tentative agreement that has been reached with Ford.”

GM, in a statement, called the dialogue “constructive.”

Manufacturing in Canada has become more expensive as the nation’s currency has risen about 60 percent against the U.S. dollar during the past 10 years.

The CAW accepted a pay freeze and gave up bonuses and time off along with other concessions as part of the restructuring that brought GM and Chrysler out of bankruptcy in 2009.

The union has said it would resist concessions in this year’s talks, citing the U.S. automakers’ return to profitability.

Shift in production

GM and Ford have moved to reduce operations in Canada during the past year. Ford last year closed its St. Thomas, Ontario, factory that made the Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car sedans.

GM said that it plans to shut its consolidated assembly line in Oshawa, Ontario, in June 2013, which will eliminate 2,000 jobs, according to the CAW.

The company plans to shift production of its Chevrolet Equinox crossover from the plant to Tennessee, where most workers will be paid less than $16 an hour.

Oshawa is also where GM makes the new Cadillac XTS full-size luxury sedan.

Chrysler has about 8,000 production workers at Ontario vehicle-assembly plants in Brampton, near Toronto, and Windsor, outside of Detroit. The Brampton site builds the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger.

GM has about 6,200 CAW-represented workers in Ontario, including a vehicle-assembly factory in Oshawa where the Chevrolet Impala and Buick Regal are assembled.

Profit record

Last year GM set a full-year profit record and Ford earned more than in any year since 1998.

This year both companies’ first-half net income was cut in half as continued strength in North America failed to offset economic turmoil in Europe.

Chrysler, which was bought by Italian car-maker Fiat SpA in 2009, saw its revenue increase 8 fold in the first half from a year ago, even as its European parent declared a loss.

Canada will probably lose new-vehicle assembly work to lower-cost Mexico through the next decade, according to industry researcher R.L. Polk & Co.

Canada’s share of North American car and light-truck assembly may slip to 12.6 percent in 2017 and 12.1 percent in 2022, from 15.8 percent this year, Polk said in a July 9 report on its website.

GM was the last carmaker to be hit by a strike in Canada, in 1996.

That walkout lasted 20 days, paralyzing the company’s Canadian operations and forcing layoffs at other North American plants.

Canada, which ranked as the world’s fourth-largest car producer in 1999, has slipped out of the top 10, the union said.

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