CAW members move with ‘historic’ agreement

Workers will go to non-union shop but keep contract protections

The Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) has reached what it calls an “historic” agreement for about 70 former Automodular employees in Oshawa, Ontario. General Motors severed ties with the auto parts supplier earlier this year and switched the contract to Inteva Products, a non-unionized Michigan-based company.

Under pressure from the CAW, the union and GM have negotiated an agreement that would see the Automodular workers move to Inteva’s new facility in Ontario (yet to be named), taking their union cards, collective bargaining agreement and existing wages with them.

“We were pushing to ensure that’s how it unfolded,” says CAW spokesman Jerry Dias. “What we went through with GM over the past year and a half — through the crisis — I think we’ve earned the respect that they’re going to have to be a little more creative today than they may have been in the past.”

Under the agreement, the union has agreed to find ways for Inteva to cut labour costs by 10 per cent in the first year of the contract and five per cent in the second.

“That can come in any form,” says Dias. “It can be anything from productivity improvements to vacation to time off the job — there’s a whole variety of things. But the workers are not going to take home a dime less.”

Steve Batchelor, president of CAW Local 1090, which represents the workers, says without the agreement, workers at Inteva would have earned about a third less, $14 per hour compared with their current wage of $21 per hour. He says workers were willing to make concessions to save their jobs, but they weren’t willing to take a pay cut.

“There’s absolutely no value at all in reducing wages,” he says. “If a company is looking for overall cost reductions, reducing wages by a dollar or two an hour doesn’t make sense in the long run. The goal is to look at overall cost-cutting measures.”

Had the two sides not reached an agreement, Batchelor predicts there would have been unrest in the auto parts industry.

He says GM agreed to the deal “knowing that moving forward we would have a labour dispute — not only with Automodular but most of the auto parts suppliers in the area that CAW represents and GM would obviously bear the brunt of that, that this was the first of many attempts. It wasn’t a one-off.”

“Obviously, we can’t tell GM how to source the work,” he says. “But if you’re going to source it to a non-union shop, we wanted to make sure GM put pressure on Inteva to take our collective agreement.”

Dias says the deal will be watched carefully by other unions and parts suppliers.

“In our opinion, those are the new rules,” he says. “The new rules are that you as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) have the right to re-source work — but you’re taking the people with you.”

Since reaching the Automodular agreement, CAW Local 1090 has also reached a similar deal to bring back workers at the former BBI auto parts plant in Ajax, Ontario. Acoustex International is scheduled to start producing parts next month.

“We have negotiated a deal to reopen that plant under the same structure, maintaining the same rate of pay, benefits and seniority, but we would work with that company as well to gain efficiencies within the plant,” says Batchelor.

Automodular had said it would lay off 100 people following GM’s decision. Aside from the roughly 70 people back on the job, some former employees will receive severance packages.

The CAW has yet to meet with Inteva to work out where the savings will come from over the next years.

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