TORONTO — Ford Canada and the Canadian Auto Workers union began labour talks Tuesday afternoon, with the future of an assembly plant in southern Ontario one of the major issues on the bargaining table.
Ford asked the CAW to renegotiate its current labour contract, which doesn’t expire until 2011, after the union gave substantial concessions to both General Motors and Chrysler earlier this year.
The concessions were part of a massive restructuring process that saw both automakers file for bankruptcy protection south of the border and receive billions of dollars from governments in Canada and the U.S.
Ford Canada president and CEO David Mondragon has said the company needs a new labour contract similar to that at GM and Chrysler in order to stay competitive.
in both Canada and the U.S.
The CAW has expressed a willingness to negotiate, but under the condition that Ford maintain its current production footprint in Canada.
“If Ford Motor Company is serious about reaching a new agreement with our union, it must commit to maintaining, and hopefully expanding, its Canadian production footprint,” CAW president Ken Lewenza said in a statement Tuesday.
“Already Ford’s proportional Canadian presence is much smaller than that of General Motors, Chrysler and even Honda and Toyota. There is absolutely no incentive for our members to approve a contract that makes a number of sacrifices without improving job security and returning our laid-off members to the job.”
Mike Vince, chairman of the CAW’s Ford master bargaining committee and president of Local 200 in Windsor, Ont., said the union expects Ford to maintain approximately 13 per cent of its North American production in Canada.
This may prove easier said than done, however.
Ford Canada spokeswoman Lauren More confirmed Tuesday that the company has no plans to manufacture vehicles at its St. Thomas, Ont., plant beyond 2011. The plant has been in operation since 1967.
Currently, the 1,600-employee plant manufactures the Ford Crown Victoria, the Lincoln Town Car and the Mercury Grand Marquis — all full-sized cars, demand for which is limited to niche markets. In fact, the Crown Victoria is only sold as a part of fleets, such as police cars and taxis.
Vince said that if Ford plans to close the St. Thomas plant, it will have to increase production elsewhere to make up for the loss of jobs.
“If that’s the case then they’re going to have to do something in our minds to ensure that they bolster the footprint in the other two locations (of Windsor and Oakville),” he said.
Auto industry analyst Bill Pochiluk said none of the cars manufactured at St. Thomas are “particularly competitive,” and Ford would have to spend a lot of money upgrading the models in order to keep the plant open.
“Quite frankly, we’re not sure that particular product set is relevant right now with the kinds of volume that it’s likely to have, mostly for industrial markets… because that can be achieved using other vehicles, including SUVs and, for example, the new Taurus,” said Pochiluk, president of industry adviser AutomotiveCompass.
Pochiluk said the union would have to give Ford “very, very substantial” concessions for the company to be able to justify keeping the St. Thomas plant open.