TORONTO — Unifor has picked Ford Motor Co. as the lead company for negotiations with the Detroit Three automakers as it works to hammer out new contracts.
The bargaining with Ford will serve as a blueprint for workers at General Motors and Stellantis, the union's national president said Tuesday, as it focuses on securing electric vehicle production investments.
Lana Payne said she is encouraged by Ford's transparency with the union in key areas, but warned workers are prepared to strike if necessary.
"Ford Motor Company articulated to us its own vision and framework," she said during a press conference.
"Although there are certain areas of disagreement, there were also areas of alignment and this is important."
Unifor members at Ford voted 98.9 per cent in favour of a strike if the bargaining committee fails to secure a new collective agreement.
Payne said the strike mandate puts the union in a good position.
"We're feeling strong, supported and ready to bargain," Payne said.
The union kicked off negotiations with the major auto companies earlier this month as the contract for 18,000 autoworkers at the Detroit Three is scheduled to expire on Sept. 18.
It will now pause its discussions with GM and Stellantis while it focuses on Ford.
"We will approach these talks with Ford to secure the best possible contract for our members. That is our goal," Payne told reporters and union leaders in Toronto.
"The tentative settlement we present will be the one that our committee can stand behind, an agreement that our members can be proud of," she said.
"And if that can't happen, then there will be no deal. And if anyone thinks that I'm bluffing right now, just follow what our union has been doing this past year, these past weeks."
Payne may have been alluding to ongoing action by Unifor members at 27 Toronto-area Metro grocery stores, who have been on strike since July 29. The union has said it wants a strong deal with Metrothat it hopes to repeat in contracts with other grocers, a tactic borrowed from auto negotiations.
Steven Tufts, an associate professor at York University, said the strong strike mandate "turned up the heat in this round of bargaining."
Tufts said Unifor's choice to target Ford shows the strong push for more investments in the transition to electric vehicles.
"If Unifor is serious about increasing the investment dollars, then what you're seeing is potential of some production shifting to Canada," he said.
Although, he said, the wage gains likely won't be as strong as what the U.S. auto union is pushing to get.
In the U.S., members of the United Auto Workers are bargaining simultaneously for the first time in 25 years as their collective agreements expire days apart in September. The union south of the border voted in favour of a strike with 97 per cent mandate if the terms aren't met.
Tufts said the two unions could exert more pressure on the Detroit Three if they were to target the same company.
While UAW has not announced their pick, Tufts said they are likely to target Stellantis, which is more profitable than GM and Ford.
"If UAW targets Stellantis, they're going for huge wage gains," he said. The union in the U.S. is pushing for a cumulative wage increase of 40 per cent.
"There was an opportunity, perhaps, to do some coordinated bargaining," he said. "That's not happening.
"The question then becomes, is it an opportunity lost?"
Payne said Unifor has maintained open communications with UAW but the priorities remain different.
"We are bargaining our own collective agreement here," she said. "We have our own strategy and we have our own members to deliver for and their expectations are high."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.
Ritika Dubey, The Canadian Press