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Unifor targets Fiat Chrysler for next round of labour talks

A new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sign is pictured after being unveiled at Chrysler Group World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan May 6, 2014.

Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has been chosen by Unifor as the next company the union will negotiate with in contract talks between Unifor and the Canadian units of the Detroit Three auto makers.

Bargaining with Fiat Chrysler will begin after Unifor members who work at General Motors Co. plants in Canada vote on the tentative agreement with that company that was reached earlier this week. GM employees are scheduled to vote on that agreement on Sunday.

The key issue in talks with Fiat Chrysler will be the same as it was in the GM discussions – a commitment to new investment at Fiat Chrysler facilities in Canada.

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"We have one simple message for all the Detroit Three auto makers: there will be no deal without commitments to new investments in Canada," Unifor president Jerry Dias said in a statement Thursday.

In the case of Fiat Chrysler, talks about investment will centre on the auto maker's large car assembly plant in Brampton, Ont.

Unifor wants Fiat Chrysler to replace the paint shop at the factory and commit to a new generation of the Chrysler 300, Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger sedans now assembled by about 3,300 workers, said Leon Rideout, president of Unifor local 1285.

The company is talking about refreshing those vehicles some time before the end of the decade, Mr. Rideout said. A new paint shop would position the plant to win the replacement versions of those vehicles.

The union is also seeking replacement work for employees who will lose their jobs at a casting plant in Toronto when production of the compact Dodge Dart and mid-sized Chrysler 200 cars ends at U.S. factories.

About 450 Unifor members work at the Etobicoke Casting Plant, which produces pistons and cast aluminum parts for several Fiat Chrysler vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler employs another 6,000 workers on three shifts in Windsor, Ont. They assemble Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Pacifica minivans. The next generation of the auto maker's minivans went into production earlier this year after an investment of about $1-billion in the plant, so that factory is considered safe until at least the middle of the 2020s.

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Unifor said Thursday that the agreement with GM secured $554-million in new investment. Sources have said that includes $400-million that will be spent to upgrade GM's flex assembly line at its Oshawa, Ont., plant and $120-million in an engine and transmission plant in St. Catharines, Ont.

A bulletin on the results of the GM talks also said the union secured wage increases, lump sum payments and bonuses.

The union agreed to a defined contribution pension plan for newly hired employees, which will replace the previous plan that combined defined contributions with defined benefits.

Fiat Chrysler is the largest employer among the Canadian units of the Detroit Three and produced the highest number of vehicles among all auto makers in Canada in 2014.

GM's Canadian plants cranked out more vehicles than Fiat Chrysler factories last year, but that was in part because the Windsor plant was shut down for several months to retool it to build the new generation of minivans.

Once the GM contract is ratified and if negotiations with Fiat Chrysler are successful, the union will turn its attention to Ford Motor Co.

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

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