Though details of the tentative agreement struck between Ford Motor Co. and Canada's autoworker union haven't yet been revealed, Unifor members likely will be looking south of the U.S.-Canada border while weighing whether or not to ratify the pact.
At the same time, the Canadian union's deal could nudge bargainers at Ford and the United Auto Workers toward an agreement, according to a management expert.
For the first time in a generation, Unifor — which represents roughly 18,000 workers at Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Stellantis NV — bargained with the automakers at the same as the United Auto Workers, the Detroit-based union that represents nearly 150,000 Detroit Three workers. And to make the circumstances even more historic, the UAW last week launched a targeted strike of all three companies at once for the first time ever. A Unifor strike of Ford was averted at the last minute, as the two sides agreed to a 24-hour contract extension and ultimately came to a tentative agreement Tuesday.
Both Unifor and Ford have declined to release details of the agreement publicly until members have a chance to review it ahead of a ratification vote.
Meanwhile, the UAW — led by President Shawn Fain, who earlier this year became the first UAW leader to be directly elected by members and took office on promises of reform, transparency and a more militant posture toward employers — has demanded upwards of 40% wage increases, a shorter work week for the same pay, restoration of pensions for all workers, the end of a tiered wage and benefit system and other significant contract improvements. Unifor has not detailed its specific proposals, but has said that pensions, wage increases and securing autoworkers' jobs during the shift to electric vehicles were its top priorities in negotiations.
"The UAW's militancy has raised expectations for autoworkers on both sides of the border," said Larry Savage. a labor studies professor at Brock University in Ontario. "You can bet the content of that deal is going to be judged relative to what UAW members are expected to secure south of the border. Even if Unifor negotiates the best contract in a decade, this round of bargaining will be considered a success or a failure based on what Shawn Fain and the UAW secure in the States."
"It looks like Ford was very motivated to secure a deal and Unifor proved a willing dance partner," said Savage. "While we don't know the details of the tentative agreement, we should expect Canadian autoworkers to have made significant gains in this round of bargaining."
The breakthrough in Canada may serve as a sort of morale booster at Ford and an incentive to get a deal done with the UAW, said Marick Masters, a management professor at Wayne State University.
“The more clarity you can bring to the situation, the better at this point in time,” he said. “A strike would have only complicated the situation in the U.S., having adverse implications for Ford and perhaps necessitating the layoff of additional workers, and at the same time, it removes that as a source of Ford’s attention. They can now focus exclusively on negotiations in the U.S.”
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