Canada, USA: two very different union negotiations

Analysis. Stellantis just released a joint statement with the Canadian union Unifor which focused on how the two are working together to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement, using creative solutions. Earlier this week, UAW leaders expressed a more confrontational approach, and notably did not publicly shake hands with Stellantis leaders.

Windsor plant

A bit of history explains the difference. Former Chrysler leader Sergio Marchionne was implicated in a bribery scheme with top UAW leaders; while he died before any conclusions could be definitely drawn, both Fiat Chrysler and UAW leaders were brought to court over the affair. The UAW membership understandably does not want to see its current leaders getting overly friendly with FCA US, and its new leaders have worked to put a distance between themselves and their predecessors.

There have also been different circumstances on the ground, where Stellantis has overproduced a large number of vehicles from American factories; this can be interpreted by union members as preparation for a long strike. The UAW also gave up more concessions than their Canadian counterparts, years ago, and the American union is still trying to make up the lost ground. Finally, Stellantis has made a massive commitment to its two Canadian assembly plants and is setting up a battery plant in Windsor ; while in the United States, parts and assembly plants alike live under a cloud of doubt. In addition to the already-closed Belvidere plant, Trenton is running on one of its two buildings, and Warren workers may have some fears about the future as well as the Ram Classic may be approaching its final year.

Sterling Heights stamping press, 2016
Sterling Heights stamping press, 2016

Chances are the US side will get its own investments as STLA Medium approaches, but until there’s certainty around that, and as long as the rank and file have any lingering doubts about their officials’ (and FCA US’) integrity, the outward faces of the negotiations will continue to be very different. It’s quite likely the Unifor negotiations will be more relaxed as plant shutdowns are less likely with only Etobicoke in the balance, easily compensated for with more shifts at Windsor. The UAW has a lot to fight for, but it’s unlikely they are as openly hostile in private—even if they are as aggressive as they need to be.

The new contracts are likely to reveal a good deal about future production in the United States. Until then, the mysteries continue.

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