Unifor auto talks press on as U.S. auto strike could affect Canadian suppliers

By Ian Bickis   

Business Operations Leadership Automotive

Photo: Unifor.

TORONTO – A strike by Unifor autoworkers could still be averted as the union says contract talks with Ford Motor Co. haven’t stalled, but experts say the Canadian auto sector could soon take a hit anyway after U.S. autoworkers walked off the job.

Unifor national president Lana Payne said Thursday evening in an update to members that the union has met resistance in its negotiations so far.

“To date, we have received two economic offers from Ford Motor Company and we have rejected both. That should tell you that those offers did not come close to meeting our expectations,” said Payne.

However, she added that “talks have by no means stalled,” and that the union has until the current contract expires at the end of day Monday to reach a deal. After that, it could announce a strike.


Meanwhile, some 13,000 U.S. autoworkers started striking Friday, targeting a plant at each of the Detroit Three automakers.

Members of the United Auto Workers union began picketing at a General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Mo., a Ford factory in Wayne, Mich., near Detroit, and a Stellantis Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.

It was the first time in the union’s 88-year history that it walked out on all three companies simultaneously after four-year contracts with the companies expired at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

The strike, while limited for now, could soon have an impact on deeply integrated Canadian parts suppliers, said Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association president Flavio Volpe.

“As of today, with these plants shut down, it’s not an immediate hit, but it could be quite soon,” said Volpe.

“If we see an expanded shutdown or a prolonged strike, it’s going have an effect for sure on volume production, on lines at Canadian parts suppliers.”

He said parts suppliers could keep producing with plants down, but they can only really carry one or two days’ inventory.

And while U.S. workers have already walked off the job, and their president Shawn Fain has taken a combative tone in this round of bargaining, Volpe emphasized different circumstances in Canada where the union and industry have worked closely together on issues.

“We’re monitoring like we always do, but I’m certainly making no equivalence between the Unifor talks and the UAW talks,” he said.

Sam Fiorani, vice president of Global Vehicle Forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions LLC, said they haven’t seen impacts yet on Canadian suppliers, but it will happen if the strike persists.

“It’s likely that in a couple weeks, if the strike were to hold up, it will affect a bunch of small companies on both sides of the border.”

He noted that the plants the UAW chose to target don’t affect any of the Detroit Three powertrain operations in Canada, leaving Unifor the chance to strike at those plants.

“With Unifor negotiating at almost the same time, It’s unlikely that the UAW would target anything that would significantly impact Canadian suppliers or factories, just so that Unifor could have the unique strength to target its own plants.”

So far, even the U.S. strikes are fairly limited as the UAW looks to pressure automakers into more concessions, said Fiorani.

“It’s a minor inconvenience for the Detroit Three, and it’s just to show them that they can shut down the plants if they want to.”


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