Unifor, the union looking to represent Toyota workers in three Canadian plants, is set for a vote that will be closely watched by labour groups after a failed attempt at unionization at another U.S. car plant last month.
The union, which was formed last year with the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, said Monday it had filed an application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board to represent more than 6,500 workers at Toyota’s auto plants in Ontario.
Unifor national president Jerry Dias said there has been “significant support” for the organizing drive.
“We are absolutely confident that we have enough cards that meets the Ontario government threshold or we wouldn’t be here today,” Dias said during a news conference, although he declined to say how many of the workers had signed union cards to date.
Top concerns for Toyota workers include wages, pensions and workplace issues, Dias added, noting that if the certification is successful, Unifor would go into bargaining immediately.
Toyota has three Canadian assembly plants — two in Cambridge and one in Woodstock, Ont. Unifor wants to bargain for all of them as one unit.
Dias said he expected the vote to begin next Monday, with the results released later in April.
If it succeeds, they would be the first Toyota plants in North America to become unionized, and come as a welcome change for the labour movement after workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., were unsuccessful in their own unionization drive led by the United Auto Workers last month.
Dias said he expected the process to go much more smoothly in Ontario, and dismissed concerns about the impact unionization may have on the car company’s wish to remain or expand in Canada.
“People today are a lot smarter, they’re not buying (that) nonsense anymore,” he said.
“Toyota is here because of what the Toyota team members bring to the party. They’re here because of what Ontario brings to the party.”
Anthony Faria, an automotive industry expert at the University of Windsor, said Unifor wouldn’t be calling the vote is it didn’t think it had a good chance at winning, because losing would be “a real embarrassment to them” just as it was for the UAW.
“The UAW went into that certainly very confident they were going to win that vote and they did not, and they have taken a real black eye from it,” said Faria.
Toyota, he added, has worked hard to maintain a union-free environment by matching concessions made by the Big Three automakers and ensuring workers are well compensated.
But some concerns have popped up around pensions and contract workers which have created new interest in the union. If this move is successful, Faria added, it may allow Unifor to go after Honda, another foreign company operating in Ontario, one where unionization bids have also failed in the past.
Dias insisted the main issue around the Toyota vote wasn’t Unifor or its relevance however, but rather “the Toyota team members and their desire to have a collective voice.”
A spokesman for Toyota, however, said the company didn’t see the need for a union or what Unifor could add to its workplace that Toyota hasn’t already provided.
“We have a package that’s at or near the top of the industry, we don’t understand what they’re going to negotiate, or what they’re going to negotiate away,” said Greig Mordue of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc.
“We understand what Unifor wants, we don’t understand what our team members will receive.”
Mordue said the company will review the application closely ahead of the vote.
“At the end of the day, our team members are going to have to decide if they’re prepared to hand over $6 million in dues to Unifor, and more specifically if they’re prepared to work about 28 hours a year to support Unifor dues and if they think there’s value in that,” said Mordue.
“We don’ think there is, but our team members will ultimately decide.”
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