Wednesday, August 15, 2012

If workers take cuts, they should get profits too

CAW National President, Ken Lewenza, spoke to the media Tuesday afternoon in Toronto after the union started contract negotiations with General Motors. He emphasized how far apart the two parties are at this point. CAW contract talks will also take place with Chrysler and Ford. 

As Canada’s first auto talks in four years got underway, CAW president Ken Lewenza issued a clear warning to the auto makers – stop asking for concessions.

Canada's 24,000 auto workers deserve to share in the gains the auto makers have made since 2009 when a multi-million dollar government bailout and worker concessions helped keep a struggling industry in business, he said.

“The companies have profited because of our members' sacrifices. They have no economic or ethical right to demand further concessions,” Lewenza told a press conference Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto.

The CAW is holding its first formal meetings this week with each of the Detroit Three auto makers, General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, in what some have described as the most crucial auto talks in years.

At stake are the wages of some of the country’s highest paid industrial workers, along with the future of auto industry investment in Canada, a key driver of Ontario’s economy.

GM Canada opened the talks Tuesday morning saying it wants to cut its hourly labour costs in Canada, Lewenza said.

GM’s U.S. chief executive Dan Ackerson has described Canada as the most expensive place in the world to build cars.

Lewenza said Canada’s higher pay rates are offset by the higher profits the auto makers earn on vehicle sales here. The cost of living in Canada is higher, and the Canadian dollar is overvalued by 20 per cent relative to the U.S. greenback, a problem that can’t be solved in labour negotiations, Lewenza argued.

He added the union wants to work with the auto makers to make Canada’s plants among the world’s most productive. But it can’t go back to its membership seeking more concessions, not when the companies have returned to profitability.

His members want to win back things like the Christmas bonus they gave up in 2009 to help GM and Chrysler avert bankruptcy, he said. The union also gave up several dollars per hour in pay, agreed to a four-year wage freeze, lost bonuses and time off, while retirees gave up pension indexing.

While he said he doesn’t expect to regain all of the losses, the union can’t agree to any further concessions given the companies are now profitable.

“One way or another our members have to make some progress,” he said. He added the union would not agree to a U.S.-style two-tier wage system that would see new hires accept a lower pay grid.

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