OPINION: Larry Savage discusses auto workers’ bargaining leverage

Professor of Labour Studies Larry Savage wrote a piece recently published in the Globe and Mail about his belief that Canadian autoworkers hold significant leverage in their upcoming contract negotiations.

He writes:

“After decades of playing defence under threat of concessions and plant closures, Canada’s auto workers, represented by Unifor, have entered 2023 contract negotiations with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis with unprecedented bargaining leverage.

On Aug. 29, Unifor President Lana Payne announced the union had selected Ford as its strike target to set the pattern agreement in auto talks with the Detroit 3 auto makers. While Ford appears motivated to reach a speedily negotiated settlement, Unifor is coming to the bargaining table with renewed confidence and an ambitious set of proposals designed to make up for years of belt-tightening in the auto sector. Specifically, the union has prioritized pension improvements, wage increases, transition issues related to the shift to electric vehicle manufacturing, product commitments and plant investment guarantees in this round of bargaining.

The conditions are ripe for Unifor to make big gains at the bargaining table. Besides the tight labour market, which helps increase workers’ wages and bargaining power in general, there are several other key factors working in the union’s favour.

First, the Detroit 3 have posted record profits in recent years and invested billions to retool many of their Southern Ontario plants. As the auto sector undergoes an electric vehicle revolution, individual auto makers are looking for stability and labour peace to protect and increase their share of the lucrative and expanding EV market. A 40-day UAW strike in 2019 cost General Motors US$3.6-billion. That is an outcome auto makers will want to avoid in 2023. But even more concerning is the strategic concern that a labour dispute would allow competitors to expand their market share even more rapidly in a critical, transformative period for the sector.”

Continue reading the full article on the Globe and Mail website.

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