Ford expects to build a new line of electric vehicles and their batteries at the company’s assembly plant in Oakville, ON, Canada, as part of its tentative contract with Unifor, the union representing Canadian auto workers.
The tentative agreement covers 6,200 blue-collar employees at Ford plants in Windsor and Brampton, ON, according to Unifor.
Jerry Dias (below), president of Unifor, which this fall is negotiating new contracts with Detroit’s three automakers, says during a press conference that under the tentative contract, Oakville will play an important role in Ford’s future.
According to Dias, the first electric vehicle will roll off the assembly line in Oakville in 2024. In all, Ford will build five different electrified models at Brampton between 2024 and 2028, he says.
Retooling the Oakville plant will cost approximately C$1.8 billion ($1.35 billion), says Dias.
One of the reasons why the tentative agreement was so complicated to assemble was that Ontario’s provincial government and the Canadian federal government have agreed to assist financially in retooling the Oakville plant, says Dias, who speaks frequently of the need for a national auto policy that would help protect auto jobs in Canada.
Ford acknowledges the tentative settlement, which came 11 hours after the original strike deadline was extended by the union, is in place but declined further comment pending ratification by Unifor, which will take place Sunday.
In one significant change, the agreement will last only three years rather than four, which has been the term for the past several contracts.
By setting the term at three years, Unifor can bargain in tandem with the United Auto Workers in the U.S., where contracts will expire at the same time. The objective will be for Unifor and the UAW to join forces to press Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler to divert investment from Mexico and into plants in the U.S. and Canada.
Dias says the new agreement includes a wage increase and a modification of the 10-year “grow-in” that is required for new employees to reach the top contract wage.
The tentative agreement also addresses plans for downsizing the workforce in Oakville because building EVs requires fewer hands. Some 300 employees will move to jobs assembling batteries and more than 400 blue-collar employees in Oakville are eligible for retirement, Dias says.
The extensive retooling will require layoffs because the plant will be idle for an extended period, Dias says.
Ford also is committing to bringing new work to the Windsor engine plants. One of the new products will be a 6.8L V-8 destined for use in the Ford F-150, the company’s best-selling pickup.
“Ford knows that Canada is an important market and they know they have to step up,” Dias says.
However, the lack of a commitment from Ford to build a new product at Oakville had prompted Unifor to zero in on Ford as the strike target for the start of this year's contract negotiations.
The Ford Edge and Lincoln Nautilus are built at Oakville but are expected to reach the end of their lifecycle in 2023.
Dias says Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, is pushing for new product commitments at Canadian plants from FCA and GM just as it did in 2016.
Unifor expects to begin negotiations with FCA as soon as the Ford ratification is complete, Dias says. “We lost the third shift at Windsor assembly, so we will probably need two products there,” he says. “We also need new product in Brampton."