Unifor Encounters Resistance from General Motors Amid Contract Negotiations

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Unifor Encounters Resistance from General Motors Amid Contract Negotiations
In this file photo taken on January 27, 2020 a sign with the General Motors (GM) logo is seen outside the GM Detroit- Hamtramck assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan. PHOTO BY JEFF KOWALSKY /AFP via Getty Images

As the Oct. 9 deadline for contract negotiations with General Motors (GM) looms, Unifor reveals that they continue to meet resistance from the automaker. This development emerges alongside growing signs of internal dissent within the union, as they negotiate with all three major auto companies.

Unifor’s National President, Lana Payne, acknowledged the challenges in the ongoing talks with GM. “Some progress has been made in the talks with GM, but there’s nothing automatic about having the company agree to the same terms the union reached with Ford Motor Co.,” Payne stated. This comes after the union successfully brokered a deal with Ford on Sept. 19, which Payne described as “extremely good.”

Unifor aims to implement a tactic known as pattern bargaining, where they encourage GM to accept the terms already set with Ford, ensuring equal benefits for all members. However, the approach hasn’t been welcomed warmly. Payne remarked, “I would definitely say we’re meeting some resistance. The idea of pattern bargaining is not exactly something that these companies love.”

The challenges faced by Unifor aren’t limited to just GM. They also have the task of ensuring their members are convinced of the benefits of the deal. Union members at Ford displayed mixed reactions, with only 54% voting in favour. The deal also faced opposition from skilled trades members in Windsor and Oakville.

Larry Savage, chair of the labour studies department at Brock University, predicts a favourable outcome at GM. He commented, “Members at GM will likely vote in favour of their deal because there’s much to gain for the many new hires there.”

Unifor Encounters Resistance from General Motors Amid Contract Negotiations
GM workers use human assistance automation to weld vehicle doors at the General Motors assembly plant during the COVID-19 pandemic in Oshawa, Ont., on Friday, March 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denett

Yet, Stellantis members might not be as easy to convince. Local 444 president, Dave Cassidy, has hinted at seeking better terms, potentially breaking the pattern set with Ford. Notably, Cassidy, who also chairs the skilled trades group at Unifor, represents those at Ford who opposed the contract. “Dave Cassidy has made it very clear that he wants to see a better deal than the pattern established at Ford,” Savage noted, indicating the potential hurdles ahead for Unifor.

Emphasizing the essence of pattern bargaining, Payne stated in a recent video to members that it represents the “ultimate act of solidarity.” However, the deviations from this pattern could lead to uncertain grounds, as Savage warns, “It’s a very dangerous gamble because it’s a recipe for disunity in the long term.”

Amidst concerns raised about the gains in the pension deal and the absence of a profit-sharing agreement, Payne stood firm in defending the Ford contract. She believes that there’s more in the deal than meets the eye and urged members to fully digest the multi-layered improvements, which include substantial wage increases, bonuses, and a faster track for new employees to attain full pay.

As negotiations intensify, Payne emphasized the depth of their current deal, “The reality is that you have to make these decisions when you’re in the middle of it … this was so comprehensive, it deserved to be recommended and brought back to our membership.”