TORONTO — Talks between Chrysler and the Canadian Auto Workers are progressing and the union and officials in the Canadian and Ontario governments said Thursday a deal was close at hand.
Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement and Ontario Economic Development Minister Michael Bryant both said several steps need to be completed before governments in Canada and the United States will agree to give Chrysler the long-term bailout loans it has requested, but added that one important step — an agreement with the CAW — seemed to be near.
The Globe and Mail’s online edition reported the two parties were within $1 to $2 of cutting labour costs by the $19 an hour that Chrysler had said was necessary to stay competitive. A CAW spokesman could not confirm the report.
This would represent a significant reversal for the CAW, which had previously insisted it would stick to the pattern established in an earlier agreement with General Motors, which cut that company’s labour costs by about $7 an hour.
Bryant said he spoke Thursday morning with CAW president Ken Lewenza and management at Chrysler.
“I left the conversations with labour and management with the sense that they were closer to an agreement on cost savings, closer to an agreement on the viability of the company,” Bryant said.
Lewenza said the two sides are very close to reaching a deal.
“There’s so much pressure, on both Chrysler, and incredible pressure on the CAW, that we’ve got to get the job done.”
He added that the CAW has agreed to make some “painful” sacrifices.
“We’ve identified some areas that we think we can make some sacrifices, as painful as they may be,” he said.
Chrysler has been given to the end of April to reach deals with its unions in Canada and the U.S., to cement an alliance with Fiat and to provide governments with an acceptable restructuring plan.