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Unifor, UAW team up to seek NAFTA changes

Unifor, UAW team up to seek NAFTA changes
Greg Layson
Automotive News | July 11, 2017 – 10:41 am EST
Unifor and the UAW have joined forces to urge the governments of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to make significant changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Unifor and the UAW have joined forces to urge the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States to make significant changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The two unions, which together represent more than 245,000 auto workers in North American assembly plants, issued a joint statement Tuesday outlining four priorities they want addressed during the renegotiation of the 23-year-old trade deal. They are:

• The strengthening of labor standards and raising wages.

• Balanced trade.

• Real “made in North America” rules.

• A fair share of benefits for workers in each country.

“NAFTA has failed workers in all three countries,” the statement said. “While overall trade volumes and corporate profits are up, wages in all three countries have remained largely stagnant. Too often workers are not compensated fairly for their work.”

The average autoworker in Mexico makes around $3.95 an hour and have stagnated under NAFTA, according to the unions.

“This joint statement is an important message for governments in Canada and the United States to hear. We will not allow trade to pit worker against worker,” Unifor National President Jerry Dias said in the statement. “Auto workers are standing together across borders to ensure any renegotiated NAFTA delivers gains for all.”

“The time has come to make major changes to NAFTA. Little tweaks, or a do-nothing approach, won’t cut it,” UAW President Dennis Williams said.

The statement makes no mention of working with the Trump administration, which has supported the UAW’s demand for NAFTA changes. The UAW supported Hillary Clinton for president last year and has traditionally supported Democrats across the board politically.

Dias has said in the past that he agrees with President Trump on only one thing: That NAFTA must be renegotiated.

Since 1994, the year NAFTA went into effect, automakers have closed four assembly plants in Canada and 10 in the U.S. while Mexico has gained eight new plants. Although, earlier this year, Ford Motor Co. cancelled plans for a $1.6 billion plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Instead, it will invest $700 million to expand the Flat Rock, Mich., factory.

Unifor is Canada’s largest private-sector union, formed through a merger of the former Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada and the Canadian Auto Workers union, which broke away from the UAW in 1984.

Unifor and the UAW don’t normally work closely together in public, often avoiding comment on one another’s philosophies. For example, while the UAW has often negotiated profit sharing as part of its auto contracts, Unifor refuses to entertain the idea.

But both unions maintain that NAFTA has been detrimental to the auto industry in both Canada and the U.S., costing both unions thousands of jobs.

No blame

The unions were careful to not blame the Mexican workers for the shift in production.

“It’s essential for auto workers in the United States and Canada to not be persuaded by those who wish to portray Mexican auto workers as the problem,” they say. “Workers in every country have the right to develop their economy, advance social conditions, and to seek a higher standard of living. But for far too long successive Mexican governments have failed to protect and advance workers’ fundamental rights and auto companies have been all too willing to reap the windfall of repressed wages and weak standards.”

Citing several Canadian and U.S. government sources, such as Statistics Canada and the U.S. Congressional Research Service, the unions say the shift in production to Mexico from Canada and the U.S. has led to surging auto deficits with Mexico.

The U.S. had a $65.3 billion auto trade deficit with Mexico in 2016, up 1,814 percent when compared with a $3.6 billion deficit in 1993. Canada has also seen its auto trade deficit with Mexico climb to $7.1 billion (U.S.) in 2016, up from $1.6 billion in 1993.

“Auto trade within NAFTA should not be considered in isolation,” the unions warn. “As a region, North America has persistent and growing automotive trade deficits with other key auto-production regions including Japan, South Korea, the E.U. and increasingly China.

“This broader imbalance in global auto trade adds to the urgency to address the failures of NAFTA, and set North America on a path toward greater overall balance in trade with other regions.”

Clock ticking

The U.S. triggered a 90-day consultation window for NAFTA talks on May 18. On or about July 17, the U.S. must publish a detailed summary of its objectives for the renegotiation. And talks can officially begin on Aug. 16, which marks the end of the 90-day consultation period.

“We will continue to engage with our governments, civil society partners and allies to ensure that trade policy is geared toward mutual gains, the expansion of rights and sustainable economic development,” the unions say. “Auto workers in the United States, Canada and Mexico must collaborate to ensure that the re-negotiation of NAFTA is an opportunity that delivers gains for all.”

After reviewing the unions’ statement, Brendan Sweeney, a professor of labor studies and a project manager McMaster University’s Automotive Policy Research Centre in Hamilton, Ont., said that there are “no big surprises here.”

“It seems a logical culmination of the UAW and Unifor’s concerns about the auto industry and their role within it. They are bang-on about the problems with unions and suppressed wages in Mexico,” he said in an email to Automotive News Canada. “It will be interesting to see if both unions will continue to work together moving forward or if this is a one-off thing.”

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