Unifor’s national president believes that Canada has entered an “organizing moment” following a series of automotive deals but a labour relations expert says anti-union campaigns by employers will make it tough to seize the moment.
Lana Payne says she sees the union stepping up at time where workers want a bigger share of the profits.
“We don’t always get moments like this. So when you get them, you have to take advantage of them,” said Payne, whose membership has also ratified deals following strikes at Metro grocery stores, Windsor Salt and the St. Lawrence Seaway this year.
More than 19,000 autoworkers, mostly in Ontario, are working under a new three-year contract after four months of bargaining with automakers Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.
The three separate deals follow a pattern agreement that includes a nearly 20 per cent raise for production workers over the life of the deal, a $10,000 signing bonus for full-time employees and a cost of living allowance that is tied to inflation.
Under this deal, a production worker with four years experience will make $44.52 an hour.
The deals come alongside tentative agreements achieved by the United Auto Workers in the United States following a 45-day strike.
Payne said these are historic contracts that benefit more than her membership.
Payne pointed to Toyota as an example, which announced a seven percent raise for production workers in the United States this week.
“We have workers throughout the auto sector who are already benefiting from what we have achieved in this round of bargaining, even though they potentially might not be in the union,” said Payne.
UAW looks to unionize Tesla, Toyota
UAW president Shawn Fain led a stand up strike against all three automakers which he said has laid the groundwork to build the union beyond the Detroit Three.
“Toyota isn’t giving out raises out of the goodness of their heart,” he told members in an update this month.
“They did it now because the company knows we’re coming for them.”
In a statement to CBC News, Toyota Canada confirmed it recently made changes to employee compensation.
“We value our employees and their contributions, and we show it by offering robust compensation packages that we continually review to ensure that we remain competitive within the automotive industry,” a spokesperson for the company said in an email.
Fain, who met with president Joe Biden on Thursday, previously told Bloomberg that he believes organizing Tesla workers is “doable.”
Unifor’s Payne has said that she expects to see organization efforts increase across all sectors following the collective agreements in Canada.
“We take this work now and and we use it as an organizing moment, not just in auto, but we have been doing this across many sectors right now because we are, we’ve been negotiating monster collective agreements … with huge progress for working people,” said Payne.
“I do believe that that you’re going to see an uptick in organizing in Canada as a result of what is being achieved, I would say across the board in auto for sure, but in other places too,”
According to the most recent data, 29 per cent of Canadian workers belong to a union, which is down from 38 per cent in 1981.
Up against ‘tough anti-union campaigns’
Rachel Aleks has kept a close eye on these negotiations while teaching labour studies courses to students at the University of Windsor.
“They are very interested in what’s going,” said Aleks, who will have Dave Cassidy, the president of the Unifor local representing Windsor Stellantis workers, present to a class this month.
Aleks, who has researched the way unions and employers batter over first contracts, believes these contracts will have non-unionized workers thinking about organizing.
“It’s definitely a motivator for workers to either join a union or form a union and if they already have one, to really make a push for what they feel that they deserve,” she said.
Aleks’ research, published in the Industrial Relations Journal, found that employers continue to utilize unfair labour practices when employees start organizing efforts.
Those practices, which can include unilaterally changing terms and conditions of work, and threatening closure, can make it harder to achieve a first contract.
“Employers run a very tough anti-union campaign and so even if there’s interest by the workers, it might not translate to actual organizing that creates certified bargaining units,” said Aleks.
Through her research that focused on companies in the United States, Aleks found that there are things unions can learn from recent organization efforts that could increase the odds of creating a union.
The research showed unions can have better success by building external support with public rallies or by building coalitions with community allies.
“It will be interesting to see if this does actually translate into new member organizing,” said Aleks.