It's often north of the border where the real action takes place.
That's where the U.S. Big Three will hammer out new labor contracts this summer with the more militant Canadian Auto Workers union. Remember, it was the CAW that made higher wages, not job security, its key bargaining point in the last round of talks. And it was the CAW, not the United Auto Workers, that struckCorp. for 26 days during negotiations three years ago.
But this time around, the CAW, which boasts 49,000 Big Three members (including CAMI Automotive Inc.), and the UAW are facing many of the same issues. TheAutomotive Systems spin-off, modularity, overtime, endangered plants and organization of independent suppliers all are potential bargaining sticking points the CAW and UAW share.
And like the UAW, the CAW, which estimates it will have more retirees than "actives" within five years, wants all of its members to get a bigger share of the industry's record profits. Last year, CAW workers made C$23.88 ($16.72) per hour.
"Pensions is the No.1 priority," says CAW President Basil (Buzz) Hargrove. "We want better pensions for our current retirees and good packages to encourage retirement for some of our workers.
"And wages," he adds quickly, "wages are always a priority."
The CAW's stand on thespin-off is identical to the UAW's. But with only 900 workers in Canada, accepting a pattern contract is likely to be even less of a hurdle for Delphi there than in the U.S.
The CAW, which says it has seen its membership grow faster than any other union in the last 15 years, also is on the same page as the UAW when it comes to modular assembly and the transfer of work from car plants to outside suppliers. And, like the UAW, the CAW is dead-set against two-tier wages as part of the national contract.
"Modularity is not a threat," says Mr. Hargrove. "We're not opposed to it. Any time (the automakers) can find a better way to build cars and trucks, we're all for it. But it can't be at the expense of workers. If they want to bring in suppliers, then they have to be part of the master agreement. You can't have a separate agreement."
As in the U.S., there are several plants with uncertain futures that likely will get some attention in this year's talks.
GM's Ste. Therese, Que., Camaro/Firebird plant and St. Catharines, Ont., engine plant, are among question marks the CAW will want answered.
In addition, the Canadian talks will have some nuances all their own. The more socialistic CAW likely will place even greater emphasis on shorter work weeks through more paid time off and less overtime, all with an eye toward creating jobs in Canada. And the union isn't likely to settle for profit sharing - which it says workers have little control over - in lieu of more concrete wage increases.
"These days, a bad investment decision in Asia or Latin America can wipe out profits for an entire year," the CAW says in its bargaining position paper.
And unlike the UAW, the CAW won't sign for longer than three years. Canadian law prohibits labor strikes while a contract is in effect, taking away much of the CAW's leverage between national agreements.
"Our experience is that one to three years is a lifetime," says Mr. Hargrove. "Unlike in the U.S., where they have the right to strike, we can't do that here. So we're not locking anything in for longer than three years. A one-year deal would be preferable."