The Detroit Big 3 automakers and Unifor open talks today. Here’s what we know so far


It’s bargaining time for workers at the Detroit Big Three automakers.

General Motors, Stellantis and Ford will begin negotiations with Unifor, the union representing thousands of autoworkers, in Toronto today.

It’s a bargaining process that will define the wages and pensions for workers in their next contract. 

As the talks kick off, here’s what we know so far.

Who is bargaining, and how many workers are there?

The are more than 19,600 Unifor members unionized at the Detroit Three across Canada. The largest share of those members work for Stellantis, both at the Windsor Assembly plant, which has 4,500 members and at the Brampton Assembly plant with 3,200 members, according to Unifor figures.

Unifor’s Auto Council, comprised of union leadership from different companies and workplaces, will spearhead negotiations from the union’s side. 

How does bargaining work?

Ford will open bargaining first, followed by Stellantis, and General Motors in the afternoon.

The first company will be what’s traditionally known as a “target,” and will be the first to get a completed deal.

The target company has traditionally be announced around Labour Day. 

“Once [it’s] Labour Day, usually [the union] sends the other two companies home until the the first company gets a deal,” said Dave Cassidy, the president of Unifor Local 444.

Dave Cassidy, the president of Unifor Local 444, says that while there might be some reduction at the Windsor Assembly Plant, he's confident that there will be a future for all workers.
Dave Cassidy, the president of Unifor Local 444, says that while there might be some reduction at the Windsor Assembly Plant, he’s confident that there will be a future for all workers. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

The companies engage in what’s known as pattern bargaining: essentially, with a few small exceptions, the deal that one company reaches will be replicated by the other two. 

“Once we get the pattern set by that by that company then the others need to fall in line,” Cassidy said. 

What will the union be asking for as priorities?

Unifor has set its priorities to be wages, pensions and job security — especially as the industry transitions to electric vehicles. 

The priorities were also based on the union’s auto strategy, which was published this spring. 

“Usually the union is looking for product promises in that they get new product at existing plants or new investment or retooling an existing plant,” said Greg Layson, digital and mobile editor with Automotive News Canada. 

“That has sort of been ironed out heading into the negotiations.”

“This time it’s really a nuts and bolts sort of contract talk. These negotiations will focus on wages, pensions, benefits, seniority, cost of living, all of those things that matter on the day-to-day basis to the membership.”

Cassidy said expectations are high from members, who have seen the “record profits” companies have brought in over the life of the last three-year collective agreement. 

Construction of the Stellantis electric vehicle battery plant resumes

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Cassidy says another priority would be eliminating what’s called ‘the grow-in” for workers to reach their full wage which is currently at eight years. 

American autoworkers are also in negotiations. How do they differ?

For the first time since 1999 (excluding the 2008-09 financial cris, both Unifor and the United Auto Workers (UAW) will be negotiating with the Detroit Three at the same time. 

These are separate negotiations — the UAW and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW, which later became Unifor) parted ways in the 1980s, and have bargained separately ever since.

However, Unifor and UAW representatives met as recently as last week in Windsor to advance “each other’s’ interests throughout the bargaining process”, according to a press release.

But tensions are already heightened between the UAW and automakers, especially Stellantis — the largest employer of Unifor members in Canada. 

Last week, UAW president Shawn Fain live streamed himself throwing Stellantis’ offer into the trash on camera. 

According to the Associated Press, Fain said Stellantis had broken a pledge not to seek “give backs” in this round of talks.

The UAW is seeking a more than 40 per cent pay raise over four years, as well as restoration of pensions for new hires, cost of living increases and an end to wage tiers. 

Layson said while the demands between the two unions could be similar, he thinks Unifor will be watching the theatrics play out south of the border. 

“We’ve seen Sean Fain, the head of the UAW, declare war on the automakers … There’s a lot of theatre and a lot of dramatics going on on the other side of the border. 

“That hasn’t been the case over here. So I think Unifor is watching closely what UAW does, and what they might get.”

Layson said they also differ in other key ways: For instance, the UAW seeks performance bonuses, which are not part of Unifor’s strategy.

Layson said the Canadian union tends to prefer defined wages and benefits. 

When are the contracts up?

Contracts for Unifor members at the Detroit 3 expire on September 18 at 11:59 p.m. 

When asked about the potential of a strike Cassidy said it will be up to members to decide.

Stellantis offering buyouts to both salaried and unionized employees.
A photo of Stellantis offices in a May 2023 file photo. (Carlos Osorio/The Associated Press)

Representatives from Stellantis, GM and Ford did not return requests for comment by CBC News before publication.

In a statement, GM said the company “[looked] forward to working with our Unifor partners to build a competitive future that also recognizes our employees’ contributions to our shared success.”

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