Canadian trade union Unifor, which represents workers across multiple sectors and currently boasts more than 300,000 members, has announced the start of contract negotiations with GM and the other “Big Three” or “Detroit Three” automakers as of August 10th.
Unifor official James Stewart, who bears the title of Stellantis Master Bargaining Chair, zeroed in on the core issue of the negotiations when he said “autoworkers cannot be left behind during the retooling period our plants will go through as we transition to electric vehicle manufacturing.”
Lana Payne, Unifor National President, said that Canadian automotive sector employees are ready to do their part in transforming vehicle manufacture in Canada, but also “need a contract that delivers the stability, fairness, and respect they are owed for the monumental task ahead” at the time of what she called “a historic affordability crisis.”
The switch to EV manufacture is also a major sore spot for the United Auto Workers union or UAW. The UAW is currently seeking the unionization of workers at battery plants operated by GM and LG Energy Solution Ultium Cells LLC, where employees are paid much less than at traditional car factories, among other demands. Unifor sounds a similar note in its freshly-launched campaign.
Lana Payne specifically calls for “strong pensions, better wages and adequate protection from the effects of transition to electric vehicle production.” The negotiating chair specializing in dealing with GM, Jason Gale, echoed her statements and expanded on them, stating the “path to full pay must be shorter and autoworkers’ wages should reflect the hard work, skills, and dedication they show every single day.”
Canadian workers have experienced work and pay disruptions along with rolling layoffs both during and after The General’s retooling of the GM CAMI Assembly plant in Ontario, Canada to produce the all-electric BrightDrop Zevo 600 light commercial EV van. The retooling of the plant took only seven months, one of the fastest ever, but led to a nearly year-long layoff for worker there.
Subsequently, an EV battery shortage has caused CAMI Assembly to run well under capacity. Since the retooling, only one shift of employees out of three has been given work at any one time, with the other two laid off using a rotation system that sees each shift working two weeks before four weeks of layoff.
While the plant recently resumed production after a two-week total halt, it is still using the work-and-layoff rotation with battery supply continuing to be low. Some workers have been forced to use food banks with Employment Insurance already used up by the retooling and GM back pay proving difficult to obtain in some cases.
Unifor was formed in 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada joined to form a single general union. About 18,000 of its total 310,000 membership work for the Detroit Three and are covered by the current bargaining, which has a deadline of September 18th to reach a resolution.
The Canadian union launched its talks at a time when GM, Ford, and Stellantis are already under strong pressure from the UAW in contract negotiations.