OSHAWA, Ontario/DETROIT (Reuters) - Just three days before a strike deadline, the Canadian Auto Workers and the three Detroit automakers were far apart on major contract issues, with Chrysler Group’s CEO telling workers to temper their expectations and plant organizers preparing for a walk-out.
“Today we are without an agreement on all major issues,” the CAW said in a leaflet issued to the media and the 20,000 of its members who work for the Detroit Three.
“Our (negotiating) committees are frustrated, but remain intent on finding a solution,” it said.
Talks are taking place around the clock at a hotel in downtown Toronto as time ticks down to the union’s strike deadline of 11:59 p.m. EDT on Monday (0359 GMT, Tuesday).
The CAW has threatened an unprecedented simultaneous strike at all three automakers if it fails to reach a contract agreement with at least one of them before the deadline.
Earlier on Friday, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne warned union negotiators that they couldn’t keep ignoring the “facts” as that was not going to “make anybody’s life better”.
Marchionne did not provide details, but in the past he has said that manufacturing costs in Canada, which he calls the highest in the world, must be addressed in the current contract talks.
“My sincere hope is that we all come to the stark realization of where we are and then we move it on from here,” he told reporters at a United Way of Southeastern Michigan news conference. Marchionne is the chairman of that charity group.
He added that some progress has been made in the talks but that there is a “long road to travel between now and conclusion”.
Ford and GM could not immediately be reached for comment.
On Thursday, the CAW offered Chrysler, General Motors and Ford concessions on wages and pensions for new hires, yielding ground that might not overly upset current union members who must ratify any contract agreement.
The union said it was waiting on Friday for a response from the automakers to its concessions.
“We have put forward a proposal that the companies ought to look at objectively rather than try to force a pre-conceived idea of their view of the solution down our throats,” CAW Secretary-Treasurer Peter Kennedy said in an interview.
“I understand Mr. Marchionne’s role and what his responsibilities are,” Kennedy said. “I’m sure, if he were to be honest and candid, he understands that we are in a process here to get a deal that will protect our members and not damage the company.”
Citing a senior union source, the Globe and Mail newspaper said any concessions would be linked to new investments in Canadian operations. Negotiators are pushing for commitments to GM’s Oshawa operations and Ford’s Windsor engine plant, as well as a new paint shop at Chrysler’s Brampton facility, it said.
The concessions proposed by the CAW include allowing for new hires to start at lower wages than they currently get and to be paid less than current workers for a longer period of time.
This is the so-called “two-tier” wage scale that the three Detroit automakers and the United Auto Workers in the United States have used for the past several years to bring labor costs closer to those of foreign automakers.
However, the CAW said it will only consider a temporary pay disparity between workers.
“The important thing is that over time they would grow into the prevailing rate, so that we wouldn’t have a permanent two-tier system,” Kennedy said on Thursday.
On Friday afternoon, GM assembly line worker Peter Johnston was at the CAW’s Oshawa, Ontario, offices, preparing for a strike. The local has thousands of picket signs stockpiled, and portable washrooms, and barrels on order for use at GM’s Oshawa assembly plant.
Johnston, a 32-year veteran, works on the consolidated line at the Oshawa plant. GM has said it will shut down the line next summer, putting as many as 2,000 workers, nearly a quarter of GM’s unionized Canadian employees, out of work.
“I’m like everybody else, the uncertainty rides on me. I fear for the future of the workers at General Motors, and the municipality around here,” he said.
Additional reporting by Euan Rocha in Toronto; Writing by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver and Bernie Woodall in Detroit.; Editing by Peter Galloway and Frank McGurty