The length of the expansion and the profits chalked up by all three companies also play into the negotiations.

“We haven’t had a pay raise in 10 years,” Dias says, and that also will be addressed during the negotiations.

With the oversupply on global markets that has reduced the price of crude oil, the value of the Canadian dollar has declined.

Canadian auto workers traditionally have rejected the idea of profit sharing and instead demanded higher straight-time pay, now at C$34 ($30) per hour for workers with 10 years or more seniority and C$20 ($18) per for new hires, who reach the top pay level after 10 years.

U.S. workers with seniority get $29 per hour, and the profit sharing of American workers works out to be roughly equal to the extra compensation paid out in Canada, according to studies by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, MI.

But the lack of raises and cost-of-living adjustment has left autoworkers feeling squeezed, says Lindsay Hinshelwood, a worker at Ford’s Oakville assembly plant.

“Ontario is an expensive place to live,” she says, citing the escalating cost of housing around Oakville and the 10-year grow-in to reach the top wage at automotive plants.

Since the 1980s, when strikes at Chrysler and General Motors led to the CAW’s split with the United Auto Workers, autoworkers in Canada have had a reputation for militancy. That was reinforced in more recent years by a blockade at the Oshawa complex in 2008 and by a bitter dispute at a Caterpillar Tractor plant in London, ON, in 2012.

But Canadian workers also have a reputation for building quality products, Dias contends.

“If you look, we build about 15% of the vehicles. But we get 30% of the awards from J.D. Power,” he says. “We hit above our weight.”

Still, the auto industry’s footprint in Canada continues to shrink.

“Eight new assembly plants have gone to Mexico, while they’ve closed two plants in Canada,” Dias points out.

Arthur Wheaton, director of The Worker Institute at Cornell University, says Asian automakers and suppliers may become more critical to the country and its workers than GM, Ford and FCA, even if that is having little positive impact on the union, which has failed to organize many of those operations.

Toyota, Honda, and other parts suppliers from Japan, China and Korea may have a larger impact on the auto sector,” Wheaton says in an email to WardsAuto. “But little or none of that investment benefits Unifor.”

He predicts the union will not be able to improve its contracts dramatically while at the same time encouraging increased investment, saying it’s likely an either-or situation.

Unifor’s cause wasn’t helped when it lost a recent organizing drive at a Toyota plant in Ontario.

“Organizing (foreign) transplants has proven extremely difficult in the U.S. and Canada,” Wheaton says. “The ability to organize is impacted on the strength or weakness of the labor market. If workers felt they could get a better/equivalent job by leaving, it would lower the risk taken in voting union.

“The weak manufacturing labor market of the past 20 years has made the threat of job loss higher than the perceived benefit of voting union.”

Dias, however, remains optimistic. The union, which joined the CAW with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union specifically to increase the political clout of organized labor, already has had a major impact on the political climate in Canada. Unifor defeated an anti-union, right-to-work candidate in a key leadership contest and helped defeat an old nemesis, Stephen Harper, the long-serving Conservative Prime Minister who was replaced by Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau understands the need for keeping a strong auto sector in Canada, which Harper dismissed, Dias says.

“My guess is that Unifor leaders are working to pressure the Trudeau and Wynne (Ontario provincial) governments, (particularly the former), to speak to corporate leaders and find ways to influence new investment,” says Herman Rosenfeld, a former member of the CAW staff.

Indeed, GM invited Trudeau to Oshawa for the announcement it planned to add hundreds to salaried tech jobs in computer science at a research center in the Oshawa complex recently. However, none of the jobs will be on the shop floor that Dias and other Unifor members want to see rejuvenated in the near future.