BY GARY WATSON
TORONTO - The 12,600 members of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) have ratified a new three-year contract with Chrysler Canada Ltd. The vote was 85 percent in favor of the deal agreed between CAW tops and the company.
The tentative agreement was reached September 17, less than two hours before a scheduled strike at three assembly plants and two parts facilities.
Chrysler spokesperson Othmar Stein said he was "very pleased" with the accord.
"The Canadian Auto Workers ... have done little to stop the industry's drive to outsource work and rationalize production," said an article in the September 19 Globe and Mail. The company maintains the right to ignore promises of job security in the event of a recession or slump in auto sales.
The agreement calls for wage increases of 2 percent per year with an additional 20 cents per hour for those in skilled trades. The cost-of-living allowance was improved slightly as were company contributions to the income-support program for laid-off workers. CAW members will receive an extra 10 days paid absence over 3 years.
In the talks union officials sought guarantees against contracting out of union work, or outsourcing. Auto companies have eliminated thousands of union-organized jobs over the past decade by re-engineering factory production and purchasing more parts and services from outside suppliers, where often non- union workers receive lower pay rates and benefits.
Chrysler currently outsources about 66 percent, the most of the Big Three (Chrysler, Ford and General Motors) auto companies. According to an industry consulting firm, Harbour and Associates, Chrysler has had the highest per vehicle profit of any automaker in North America for three consecutive years.
In what union tops call "ground- breaking," Chrysler promises to "not outsource any major operations," to create a new union job for every job lost to an outside supplier and to "not close or sell in whole or part" any of its plants for the life of the contract.
Union officials call this "work ownership." CAW National Secretary-Treasurer Jim O'Neil said this "means that workers will have a say in maintaining jobs in their community when the work they do is productive, high quality, at reasonable cost and profitable."
The Toronto Star newspaper, however, reports that the company can move to scrap any commitment to job security because of an "act of God, catastrophic circumstances or significant economic decline."
Globe and Mail said the accord "does appear to strike a blow against outsourcing." It continued, "But getting the outsourcing agreement was relatively easy because, analysts and Chrysler management say, it won't really affect how the company does business." Chrysler has already carried out most of the outsourcing it needed and has projected investments at all three of its assembly plants. "Our plans were pretty much already in place," Chrysler spokesman Walter McCall told Globe and Mail.
In the information distributed to union members at ratification meetings, union officials admit that "jobs will still depend on fluctuations in the market and, in the absence of economic growth, technological change will mean fewer workers will be needed to make the products."
"I don't feel any more secure today than I did three weeks ago,'" remarked an engine line worker at the Bramalea assembly plant.
In the weeks leading up to the expiration of auto contracts, Local 707 members at Ford in Oakville, Ontario, successfully beat back the firings of four CAW members. The company accused them of being "ringleaders" of a mass refusal to work twenty minutes of overtime in temperatures over 30C (86F ) on the evening of August 22. The fight halted production for two hours on August 23.
The Chrysler Bramalea body shop lost four production hours in a similar fight over heat. In an effort to prevent possible stockpiling, on the weekend of September 14 and 15, Local 444 members at Chrysler in Windsor refused overtime.
The Chrysler settlement will now be used as the pattern for negotiations affecting 11,700 workers at Ford Canada and 28,500 at General Motors (GM). GM profits reached $1.39 billion. The company outsources the least of the Big Three and has put two parts plants in Canada up for sale and is threatening to close a third.
GM workers have been gearing up for a fight for several months. Last spring several hundred rallied at the company headquarters to protest the announced sale of the parts plants. At the same time, CAW Local 222 officials advised members to begin putting money aside for any work stoppage. Workers have been sporting T-shirts and buttons that read "GM '96. Looking For a Settlement. Prepared to Fight."
Gary Watson is a member of CAW Local 1285 and works at the Chrysler Bramalea Assembly plant in Toronto.
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