09/20/2012 02:59 EDT | Updated 09/20/2012 09:19 EDT

Canadian Auto Workers Strike? CAW Gives GM Surprise Deadline


TORONTO — The Canadian Auto Workers union reached a tentative agreement with General Motors on Thursday, making Chrysler the final of the Detroit big three still to sign a deal with the union.

The deal comes three days after the union signed a tentative deal with Ford and put off a midnight Monday strike deadline.

Earlier Thursday the union indicated it was making some headway with Chrysler, saying the company seems to be more willing than it was to reach an agreement.

After reaching a tentative deal with Ford on Monday, the CAW turned to getting similar deals at both Chrysler and General Motors — a practice known as pattern bargaining.

If at any point progress seriously stalls in the talks, the union is in legal position to strike. It has said it will give 24 hours notice before a work stoppage.

Canadian Ford auto workers will vote this weekend on the tentative agreement and the CAW said results of the vote will be released on Sunday night.

The Ford deal contains no increases to base wages 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 would be reached after 10 years _ rather than 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 Ford deal will also 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 those positions will be at Ford's assembly plant its Oakville, Ont.

All of the Detroit big three companies were equally aggressive on asking for concessions originally, but Ford was the first to come around.

Ford has said hourly wages for CAW assemblers are around $34 an hour, while assemblers in the U.S. are paid about $28 per hour. The company said all-in labour costs, which include pensions and health care, are approximately $79 per hour in Canada, versus $64 per hour in the U.S.

The strong Canadian dollar is also eroding competitiveness.

Ontario has seen the U.S.-based car makers cut thousands of jobs in the last decade as their parent companies restructured in the United States.

General Motors is shutting down its consolidated plant in Oshawa, Ont., next year, a move that will eliminate 2,000 direct jobs. Meanwhile, it is restarting production at the former Saturn assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.

The last CAW strike was in 1996, against General Motors.

The CAW represents nearly 21,000 members at the big three automakers' plants in Ontario.

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