TORONTO – Negotiations between the Big Three North American automakers and their Canadian workers are drawing closer to a line in the sand drawn by the union.
The Canadian Auto Workers has threatened job action, possibly against all three companies, if there is no agreement by midnight eastern time.
The CAW indicated Sunday it would focus its energies on negotiations with Ford.
CAW president Ken Lewenza told a Toronto news conference that Ford has shown a “clear willingness” to reach a new contract and the union will work around the clock to achieve that, hoping to use a Ford agreement as leverage with General Motors and Chrysler.
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.” G.M. 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.