Ford Motor Co. and Unifor have dodged a strike and reached a tentative agreement on a new labour contract, which the union says includes a commitment by the automaker to build electric vehicles in Canada with financial assistance from both the Ontario and federal governments.
Four-year contracts between Unifor-represented employees and the Canadian arms of the Detroit Three automakers expired Monday night, but the union announced its master bargaining committee had decided to keep the talks going beyond its strike deadline for Ford.
The pending agreement between Ford and Unifor, Canada’s biggest private-sector union, is for three years and would cover around 5,400 unionized employees in Canada, the company said in a press release.
While Ford of Canada said it would not discuss the specifics of the tentative agreement, which must be ratified by workers, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said during a press conference that they had negotiated $1.95 billion in investment that will mostly go to the company’s plants in Oakville and Windsor, Ont.
Dias picked Ford as the union’s strike target earlier this month, aiming to reach a deal with the company that would provide a pattern for agreements with the other two members of the Detroit Three: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. and General Motors Co.
Unifor had targeted Ford first in large part because of concerns about the future of the company’s Oakville assembly. Employees at the facility currently manufacture Lincoln Nautilus and Ford Edge sport utility vehicles, but uncertainty had arisen about production beyond 2023.
Dias said Tuesday, though, that $1.8 billion would be spent on the Oakville plant, which will start being retooled in 2024 to allow for the production of five electric-vehicle models.
After shutting down the facility for its revamp, the first vehicle would roll off its assembly line in 2025, Dias said. The union president added that they had secured a commitment to have the vehicles’ batteries assembled at the Oakville facility, creating about 300 jobs.
“We were determined to ensure that we solidified a product for our Oakville plant,” Dias said. “I think it’s fair to say today, that as an organization, we hit a home run.”
Even so, Dias said Unifor currently has around 3,400 members at Ford’s Oakville plant. Based on the company’s projections, and with the move to electric-vehicle manufacturing, that number could fall to about 3,000, he said.
“But if I take a look at those members today who are retirement-eligible, we should be in pretty good shape,” Dias added. “So is the footprint going to be comparable? The answer is yes.”
Ford’s plant in Windsor builds engines, and it will be getting a new 6.8-litre engine to manufacture, Dias said. That product, he added, will be introduced in 2022 and “will stabilize the employment and quite likely create new opportunities.”
Dias and Unifor have said the government has a role to play in keeping the country’s auto sector afloat, and the union thanked the federal and provincial governments on Tuesday for putting up unspecified funding commitments that were “ key ” to securing the new investment from Ford.
The announcement of the tentative deal came after Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday that his government plans on contributing an investment to Ford’s Oakville plant once contract talks conclude.
A spokesperson for Ontario Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli said in a statement to the Post that “our government will be at the table to negotiate the terms of this agreement with Ford and the federal government, and will be making a meaningful contribution.”
Although Dias said he would wait for the federal government to announce the amount of money they had committed, he said they had indeed committed funds.
In addition to nailing down new and existing products and investment from the three companies, Unifor has said it wants improved wages and pensions for members employed by the Detroit Three. Dias didn’t go into too many details of the new contract with Ford on Tuesday, saying he first wanted to present them to union members, but did tell reporters he was pleased with the wages and “economics” of the tentative deal.
The ratification vote on the contract for union members will be held Sunday, Dias said.
Dias did announce Tuesday that Unifor will next try to bargain a new agreement with FCA. The automaker recently cut a third shift at its Windsor, Ont., assembly plant, and Dias said getting one or two new vehicles to build there to bring back that shift was the union’s priority.
Unifor represents 9,000 Canadian employees at FCA facilities and 4,100 at those of GM.
Video: Union announces tentative deal with Ford Motor (The Canadian Press)