TORONTO - The head of the Canadian Auto Workers union says he is optimistic after a day of constructive talks with General Motors that a new collective agreement can soon be reached with the automaker.
CAW president Ken Lewenza said late Tuesday — in the midst of marathon negotiations — that the union is making more progress with GM Canada than with Chrysler after spending the day discussing details of a deal previously hammered out with Ford.
"We're anticipating General Motors at least providing a proposal shortly, but what it means I don't know yet. Until you see such a proposal you don't know how distanced you are," he said.
"The best thing I can say is we're having constructive discussions with General Motors today and there's a similar feeling of optimism at Chrysler at the subcommittee level, although there hasn't been a lot of work at the senior levels."
The union cancelled a Monday night strike deadline, agreeing to give Chrysler and GM negotiators more time to go over the tentative four-year deal it reached with Ford yesterday.
The Ford deal contains no base wage increases and pension plans will remain the same for existing employees. Each worker will get $2,000 a year in the second, third and fourth years to cover cost of living increases, and a $3,000 ratification bonus.
New hires will make 60 per cent of full pay, which is reached after 10 years, up from a six-year progression scale agreed upon in the last collective agreement. New hires will also be signed up for a hybrid pension plan, rather than a defined benefit plan like current workers.
The Ford deal will give 800 laid off employees a chance to get back to work, partially through the creation of 600 new jobs at its Canadian operations. Most of the new positions will be at its Oakville, Ont., assembly plant.
The CAW has asked Chrysler and GM to continue the tradition of using the deal inked with one automaker to set a "pattern" for their own negotiations.
Lewenza said discussions with the automakers will continue around the clock.
On Monday, Lewenza told reporters that the two remaining automakers and the union were still "miles" apart. While talks were progressing Tuesday, Lewenza said he couldn't say whether the companies and union were in any greater agreement because no new offers have been made.
"I still think we're miles apart because I haven't seen a proposal other than the proposal that we rejected three or four days ago," he said.
However, he added that he is confident the companies understand the importance of pattern bargaining, which keeps labour and wages out of the numerous competitive pressures automakers face.
"I feel good about the discussion we had at GM and that optimism should lead to a deal," he said.
"But bargaining is fluid and at any time something could fall off the rails, but I'm feeling optimistic."
A strike is still possible and Lewenza says the union will give 24-hours notice of a walkout if Chrysler and GM drag their feet on a deal.