Ford also faces strike at Canadian plants Monday night

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New York (CNN) — The strike by the United Auto Workers union isn’t the only labor problem that automakers, and US car buyers, need to worry about. Unifor, the union that represents autoworkers in Canada, is preparing to go on strike against Ford on Monday night.

Ford isn’t speaking about how it sees the contract negotiations going but Unifor President Lana Payne told CNN on Saturday that the two sides are far apart, especially on financial issues, saying the union has rejected the first two offers from Ford.

“We’re not close at all. There’s a lot of work to get done to get an agreement by midnight Monday,” Payne said.

Unlike the UAW, which has spelled out its initial bargaining demands, including a 40% pay raises over the life of the contract, neither Unifor nor Ford are saying where they stand on wage increase offers, but the union is looking for substantial wage hikes, pension improvements, as well as job security guarantees as the auto industry invests billions in its plans to switch from traditional gasoline powered cars to EVs in the years ahead – all issues at the center of negotiations between the UAW and the automakers it is striking.

Ford has one assembly plant in Canada, which is located in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, Ontario. The 3,400 Unifor members at the plant produce the Ford Edge and the Lincoln Nautilus SUVs.

Ford also has two engine plants in Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. The two plants have a total of 1,700 Unifor members.

The plants make V-8 engines used in Mustangs and the company’s best-selling F-150 pickup. While buyers will be able to get versions of those vehicles with a 6-cylinder engine if there’s a strike, the Windsor plants are the only ones that make the V-8 engines should a customer want those. The Edge, Nautilus and V-8 versions of those two key Ford products could join the Ford Ranger pickup and the Bronco SUV – both made at the Warren, Michigan, assembly plant where UAW members are striking – as vehicles that could soon be in short supply at dealerships in the United States and Canada.

Unifor’s contracts expired at 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday with all three of the traditional Big Three automakers – Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, which makes vehicles for the North American market under the Jeep, Ram, Dodge and Chrysler names. But the union has chosen Ford as its “target,” concentrating on its negotiations with the company and granting contract extensions to the other two. Once Unifor reaches a deal with Ford, either with or without a strike, it will work to get the other two to accept the Ford deal as a pattern for those contracts.

The UAW has traditionally followed the same playbook, but this year it broke with that tradition and went on strike against all three at the same time for the first time in its history. But it also changed past practice by having 12,700 members go on strike against only one assembly plant at each company, rather than having all 145,000 members at the three strike at the same time. The union says it is prepared to increase the number of plants being struck if it doesn’t see progress in negotiations.

If the UAW decides to take out engine and transmission plants, it could halt virtually all operations for the Big Three in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Even striking one transmission plant at each company could halt about 75% of North American production at the three, according to industry consultant Jeff Schuster, global head of automotive for GlobalData.

“Two plants per company, you can pretty much idle North America,” he said.

Payne said she’s obviously watching US negotiations carefully as she conducts her own talks with Ford.

This is the first time since 2009 – when GM and Chrysler went through bankruptcy and bailouts and Ford was also nearly out of cash – that the Canadian and US auto unions have negotiated at the same time in a previously unscheduled round of bargaining. Normally contracts expired in different years, but when Unifor negotiated its previous contracts during the pandemic in 2020, a year after the UAW contracts were reached, it demanded a slightly shorter contract to be on the same schedule as the UAW.

Payne said members are demanding significant improvements in both wages and pensions to deal with higher prices they’ve seen in Canada just as US autoworkers have. And she expects to eventually reach strong deals given the record or near-record profits across the three automakers. All three automakers are on record as offering the UAW 20% raises over the life of their contracts. They’re on strike because the UAW says those offers are not sufficient to make up for ground members have lost to inflation in recent years. Payne said her members at the three automakers are feeling the same pain and demanding similar raises.

“We know our members’ expectations are high,” she said. “(The automakers) have to understand that moment, that we’re grappling with higher prices. The world is not the same today as it was five years ago.”

Ford has traditionally had good labor relations on both sides of the US-Canada border. It has not had a US strike since 1978, nor a Canadian strike since 1990. But Payne said her members at Ford are prepared to strike Monday night if the company doesn’t step up to its demands.

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