Canadian Auto Workers Union maps bargaining strategy

Solid wage increases and improved benefits are on the agenda
By Gordon Sova
||Last Updated: 07/09/2008

“Every time we bargain a collective agreement, our union is put to the test.” So begins the report on bargaining philosophy from the Canadian Auto Workers’ (CAW) triennial bargaining conference, held in Toronto in June. Not surprisingly, there is little talk of concessions and retrenchment.

In contract negotiations generally, the union is continuing to strongly endorse three principles. First, it is opposed to two-tier wage schemes. Second, bargaining committees are to be given a strike mandate prior to the expiry of a collective agreement. Third, the time limit on contract length will remain three years.

In relation to wages, these principles are expressed in several points of the union’s wage agenda. First, the CAW aims to bargain regular wage increases and ones that compound. So, one-time items such as lump sums, bonuses and similar monetary replacements for general wage increase are not in favour. Equally, profit-sharing and productivity bonuses, which are contingent on factors over which workers have no control, are to be resisted. Finally, pay for performance and other schemes that make wage increases insecure are contrary to the CAW’s position.

Cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) clauses, which are much more common in CAW agreements than in other unions’ contracts, are also identified as an important protection. With tame inflation in the past few years, some of these plans have been abandoned or made inactive. But look to a renewed interest now that prices are escalating.

Equal pay is a second plank in the platform. Here, the union is making income improvements for female-dominated classifications and workplaces a priority. As well, the rejection of two-tier wage scales is strongly endorsed.

Finally, special increases for groups with higher skills and responsibility will also be a goal. Among these are skilled trades in heavy industry and Registered Practical Nurses in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The CAW is also proposing a full slate of improvements to benefits. The reduction of provincial medicare coverage and the increase in costs of provided services are the two drivers identified by the union for pressure by employers to cut back on benefit plans. It still aims at increasing both coverage and benefit for such things as drugs, paramedical treatment and home care. Mention is also made of fighting for improved benefits for employees over 65 and for retirees. Other specifics include improvement of compassionate care leave and maternity leave top-ups, expansion of the number of bargaining units with access to the CAW Legal Services Plan, and establishment of support for childcare and eldercare. Finally, an interesting suggestion is made to pursue sectoral benefit plans that would bring economies of scale to some of the smaller, more recently certified employers with whom the CAW negotiates.

The report inevitably reads more like a wish list than a game plan, but it does identify a few key areas in which employers will likely see more resolve or greater resistance in upcoming negotiations.

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