Advertisement

As Detroit 3 offers to the UAW roll in, local autoworkers say they need higher wages, better pensions

Unifor and the Detroit Three automakers — Ford, GM and Stellantis — will head to bargaining on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 to secure new collective agreements for automakers.  (CBC - image credit)
Unifor and the Detroit Three automakers — Ford, GM and Stellantis — will head to bargaining on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 to secure new collective agreements for automakers. (CBC - image credit)

With the United Auto Workers seeking stronger offers from the Detroit Three automakers, some Windsor auto workers say they, too, want more money and better pensions out of the negotiations happening on this side of the border.

"I live cheque to cheque," Marco Verro said, outside the Windsor Assembly Plant on Friday. " I never thought, being from a Big Three family, that I'd be living cheque to cheque working at Fords or Chryslers like my father worked at."

"We're not asking for the world. We're just asking that we can live at least half comfortable."

Unifor president Lana Payne announces Ford as the strike target for the 2023 auto talks in Toronto.
Unifor president Lana Payne announces Ford as the strike target for the 2023 auto talks in Toronto.

Unifor president Lana Payne announces Ford as the strike target for the 2023 auto talks in Toronto. (CBC News)

This week, UAW president Shawn Fain called a deal from GM that would include a 10 per cent wage increase "insulting."

UAW had publicly stated it would be seeking a more than 40 per cent wage increase for workers across the Detroit Three automakers, and has openly condemned proposals from the companies so far.

Pensions, cost of living top of mind for workers

While auto talks for the Detroit Three automakers represented by Unifor in Canada are conducted separately but concurrently, in this round of bargaining workers in Windsor said they, too, believed the 10 per cent proposal wasn't enough.

Verro said he just recently reached the top of his wage grid — and was hopeful that in this round of talks, pensions could be improved.

"Last time I felt it was done for us new hires, so I just hope the retirees make out this time," he said.

Brian Coombe, who has worked at the Windsor Assembly Plant for 23 years, said it's been at least 15 years since workers received any sort of significant raise.

"Ten per cent  is a joke with … inflation and the cost of living and all that stuff over the past number of years," Coombe said. "It doesn't even come close.

"The price of everything is skyrocketing and wages are going absolutely nowhere … we're in free fall backwards and everything else is going up."

Coombe said he believes pensions should be "at least doubled."

It wasn't a feeling shared by all workers. Lori Courtland said she'd take a 10 per cent raise.

But, she said, the tiered wage system — a system that sees new hires take eight years to reach their full wage — needs to go.

"I could not be one of the younger people making $10, $15 less than the guy next to you," Courtland said. "That is not right. They're making billions in profit and they can't pay us all the same high wage. That's just wrong. Totally wrong."

"Share the wealth with the people who are breaking their bodies to give them this profit."

The deal the UAW rejected from General Motors was slightly better than a deal the same union rejected from Ford last week.

On Friday afternoon, Stellantis proposed a 14.5 per cent increase, the largest increase proposed by a Detroit Three company so far. Fain called the offer "deeply inadequate" but said it represented movement from offers made by the other two automakers.

Unifor, Ford negotiations ongoing

John D'Agnolo is the president of Unifor Local 200 in Windsor and chair of Ford's master bargaining committee. He's currently in talks with the company after Unifor selected Ford as the target for its bargaining last month. A deal with Ford would set the template for agreements with the other automakers.

D'Agnolo wouldn't comment on the UAW's rejection of GM's deal. But he did say his members are feeling "ready" to strike if needed — though they're hoping to reach a deal.

John D'Agnolo is the president of Unifor Local 200.
John D'Agnolo is the president of Unifor Local 200.

John D'Agnolo is the president of Unifor Local 200. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"We always look at trying to resolve our issues in Canada and hopefully we can get to the point where we having a successful agreement to bring to our members," D'Agnolo said. "That's the only way you'll be successful, if you continue to talk back and forth."

D'Agnolo, for whom this is his fourth round of contract talks as a union leader, said this round is 'more difficult," because of economic conditions.

He said a strike across the border would impact "thousands and thousands of people in our communities throughout Ontario and Canada."

Patrick Anderson is the CEO of Anderson Economic Group. He says he's not surprised UAW rejected the deal — but he is surprised by the union's public statements.

"The fact that they didn't find it acceptable doesn't surprise me at all," Anderson said.

"The fact that they called it insulting ... I think it's a negotiation that's better done without unnecessarily inflammatory statements."

Anderson said that with the UAW's public comments and a rapidly approaching strike deadline, a strike seems "unavoidable."

"I don't want to predict they're going to have a strike, but certainly their public statements are leaving almost no alternative."