Let Collective Bargaining Take its Course, CAW President Says

March 17, 2009, 5:00 PM EST

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Canadian Auto Workers union President Ken Lewenza recommitted his union to a constructive dialogue with Chrysler Canada, and rejected "destructive innuendo" regarding the relocation of Chrysler manufacturing facilities away from Canada.

"We are engaged in a process of information sharing and exchange with both Chrysler Canada and Ford Canada, so that both sides can better understand each others' positions and accurately measure our current situation," Lewenza said.  "It is essential that this process continue, and we will continue to negotiate with these two companies in a respectful and confidential manner."

According to company data, labour costs in Chrysler's Canadian operations are presently several dollars per hour lower than in its U.S. facilities.  The CAW has committed to ensuring that this Canadian investment advantage is preserved in coming years, even as U.S. auto operations are restructured, and U.S. labour contracts are renegotiated.  The CAW's recent pattern agreement with GM Canada will reduce Canadian active labour costs by several dollars per hour, and will eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in legacy obligations.  GM officials have confirmed that CAW all-in active labour costs will fall to below $50 U.S. per hour under the new CAW pattern agreement.

The CAW would not provide more detail on the cost comparisons being discussed with Chrysler, respecting the confidential nature of the negotiations.  However, Lewenza did say, "Chrysler's claim that CAW labour costs are $20 per hour too high is utterly false, and is not justified even by their own internal data."

Chrysler enjoys a very strong position in Canada's auto sector, in both manufacturing and sales.  Chrysler's Windsor assembly plant is the most productive minivan assembly plant anywhere in North America, and its Brampton facility ranks among the ten most productive plants on the continent.  Meanwhile, in vehicle sales Chrysler vaulted to the top in February, selling more vehicles in Canada than any other manufacturer for the first time ever.

"Canada has been very good for Chrysler," Lewenza said.  "Our labour costs are very attractive, and we have committed to keeping them that way.  Our productivity is superior.  The company's president just confirmed that it has been highly profitable in Canada.  Our governments are ready to help.  And our consumers love Chrysler products."

"In short, Canada has been a bright light for this company."

Lewenza also pointed out that the union's current collective agreement with Chrysler bars closure of any Canadian facilities until at least the expiration of the contract (in September 2011).  Moreover, that contract and Canadian labour laws impose additional requirements on the company regarding large severance costs, notice of plant closure, and other aspects of plant closures.  Brand new capital equipment has been installed in both the Brampton and Windsor locations, which would be highly difficult to relocate.

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