TORONTO – The Canadian Auto Workers union warned again early Monday that it’s prepared to strike at any or all of the three big automakers if there’s no tentative deal by the time their contracts expire just before midnight.
The CAW indicated Sunday it would focus its energies on negotiations with Ford but said nothing had been settled with it and said talks would continue with all three U.S.-based automakers with plants in Ontario.
It repeated its position in a statement Monday but said it was still prepared to strike after 11:59 p.m. if necessary.
“In order to keep the pressure on both General Motors and Chrysler, we will continue to meet with each company, maintaining the same deadline, with the intention of reaching new tentative agreements after Ford,” the union said.
CAW president Ken Lewenza told a Toronto news conference on Sunday that Ford has shown a “clear willingness” to reach a new contract and the union was hoping to use a Ford agreement as leverage with the other two.
Though Lewenza did not say if Ford has agreed to a union proposal that would lower wages for new hires but still allow them to progress to full pay over time, he suggested the company isn’t dead set against the idea.
“Ford isn’t philosophically opposed to anything other than to say, ‘Folks, keep your costs down, keep it manageable,’ and (then) we can share in the success with the company together.’”
He said Ford “hasn’t promised anything” but added the company has indicated it agrees in principle to some of the union’s issues, which he said are being reviewed for possible “tweaking.”
Chrysler appeared miffed by the union’s move, a spokeswoman saying the company was “very concerned.” GM and Ford had little comment.
Lewenza expressed confidence a deal could be reached by the union’s strike deadline and said the union would ignore its deadline if a breakthrough was close.
“If we see light at the end of the tunnel then we’re going to keep working until it shines on an agreement,” he said.
But he said if that tunnel ends with a brick wall then the CAW will put its near-21,000 members on strike at one or all of the automakers’ plants.
“That is the last tool in the bargaining toolbox,” he said.
The automakers entered the bargaining round seeking a permanent wage reduction for fresh employees, similar to a deal the companies reached in the U.S.
But the CAW has been adamant it will never agree to a pay structure that creates “two tiers” of employees.