Unionized Canadian workers at Ford accept contract hammered out last week

TORONTO – Ford Canada’s unionized workers accepted a new contract over the weekend that will see the company’s plants bolstered by more than 600 planned new jobs but lower wages for new hires.

The Canadian Auto Workers says 82 per cent of its members who voted approved the Ford deal, which was the first collective bargaining agreement reached between CAW negotiators and the Big Three North American automakers.

The CAW represents more than 4,500 Ford workers. A total of 3,000 voted, a union spokeswoman said.

The union and General Motors agreed on Thursday to a tentative deal _ similar to the Ford agreement. GM workers were to start voting on the offer Wednesday.

Chrysler and the CAW have still not reached an agreement, but the union said it was optimistic it can reach one within a week.

The union is in legal position to strike if at any point progress seriously stalls in the talks. It has promised to give 24 hours notice before a work stoppage.

Meanwhile, the CAW was hailing the Ford deal for securing existing jobs and adding new ones at Ford’s Canadian operations during a rocky economic environment.

“This new agreement will ensure that our facilities are well-positioned for a strong future in the North American auto industry,” CAW President Ken Lewenza said in a statement.

A key issue for automakers has been keeping their Canadian costs competitive with U.S. plants at a time when the high Canadian dollar is putting the squeeze on the manufacturing sector.

The three automakers had initially pushed for permanent lower wages for new hires in the contract talks — a proposal fiercely opposed by the union.

Under the Ford deal — used as a blueprint for CAW’s talks with GM and Chrysler — new hires will make 60 per cent of full pay, which would be reached 10 years later, instead of after six years as in the last collective agreement.

New hires will also be signed up for a hybrid pension plan, rather than a defined benefit plan for current workers.

The four-your deal with Ford contains no increases to wages or changes to pension plans for existing employees. Each worker will get $2,000 a year in the second, third and fourth years to cover cost-of-living increases, plus a $3,000 ratification bonus.

The deal will also result in roughly 600 jobs created at Ford’s assembly complex in Oakville, Ont., with another 35 at its Windsor, Ont., branch, Ford said in a release.

“By becoming more competitive in our labour costs, we are better positioned to support the growth of the Canadian economy and to provide new job opportunities,” Stacey Allerton, a vice-president with Ford Canada and the company’s chief labour negotiator, said in a statement.