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Lets make a deal

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by Steve Erwin, Canadian Press posted September 20, 2005
 
TORONTO (CP) - A Canadian Auto Workers deal with DaimlerChrysler will result in up to 1,000 fewer union positions at the automaker's Ontario plants over the next three years, union officials said Tuesday.

The CAW said that due to early retirement incentives and attrition, no current employees will lose their jobs under the contract worked out early Tuesday morning with the automaker, less than 24 hours ahead of a strike deadline.

The company opened bargaining calling for a reduction of 2,500 jobs from its current unionized employee base of 11,400 people in Windsor, Brampton and a west-end Toronto parts plant.

The two sides dwindled that number down to about 1,000, with most of the jobs lost through efficiency gains - including changes in shift schedules, as well as moving "modular" production work, such as the making of doors and suspensions, to outside firms.

The union said 476 assembly plant jobs will be lost in Windsor, as well as 28 office workers in the southern Ontario city. Another 60 jobs will be lost from its Etobicoke casting plant in west-end Toronto, and between 300 and 400 at its Brampton assembly plant.

There are 1,800 DaimlerChrysler workers in Ontario eligible for retirement.

DaimlerChrysler was looking to improve its efficiency based on the number of employee hours it takes to assemble a vehicle. It also wanted to improve the flexibility of its overall cost structure so it can compete better in the industry.

"We believe this is a fair and responsible contract that recognizes the contributions of our CAW workforce, while enhancing DaimlerChrysler Canada's overall competitiveness," said the company's chief negotiator, Mark Gendregske.

Shift schedule changes in Windsor, where the automaker makes the Caravan and Pacifica vehicles, will see production go non-stop. Previously, there were breaks of between 20 and 30 minutes as workers swapped shifts.

The union said it doesn't believe transferring some assembly work to outside companies amounts to outsourcing. While other firms will take on more production work, the union reached a deal whereby no current employee would lose their job due to outside assembly contracts.

CAW president Buzz Hargrove said the union realizes the industry is changing and that the Big Three need to trim costs to compete with increased competition from the likes of Toyota, Honda and Nissan. But Hargrove said the union only accepted productivity changes if it meant there would be no involuntary layoffs.

"We're not afraid of change, we embrace change. But not at the expense of our members and their families and their communities," Hargrove told reporters Tuesday.

Hargrove blamed net losses in Big Three employment in Canada on increased competition from imports. The union maintains Asian and European automakers have great access to the North American market - resulting in a 13 per cent drop in the Big Three's share of North American sales since 1996 - while vehicle made here don't get similar access to overseas markets.

Critics argue that lost Big Three market share in Canada and the United States has more to do with a lack of sought-after products and market perceptions, deserved or not, that their quality has eroded.

DaimlerChrysler workers will vote on the agreement this weekend.

The city of Windsor will face further reductions in active Big Three employees. The city was already digesting news that it will lose most of the 1,100 jobs being eliminated by Ford over the next three years in a deal reached last week. The DaimlerChrysler cuts will likely involve roughly 600 jobs in Windsor.

DaimlerChrysler also agreed to a $575-million investment in Windsor to build the next-generation minivan in that city. However, that deal relies on some federal and provincial funding that has yet to be officially secured, said CAW negotiator Ken Lewenza.

The Windsor assembly plant will remain on three shifts, as will the Brampton plant that makes the hot-selling Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum vehicles. While those plants are running full out right now, Lewenza wanted agreements that jobs wouldn't be later lost at those plants if DaimlerChrysler looked to build more of the high-demand vehicles made in those locations elsewhere.

The CAW also set a strike deadline of midnight, Sept. 27, for its talks regarding 17,000 General Motors workers in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Windsor.

GM has indicated it's not happy with the pension improvements reached with Ford and DaimlerChrysler because it has more than twice as many retirees.

If GM refused to accept deals with its Big Three competitors on pensions as well as wages and benefits, the union says it will go on strike.

Chris Buckley, the CAW's top negotiator in the GM talks, said the union is also seeking a future product for its No. 2 Oshawa car plant should GM eventually replace the Buick LaCrosse - sold in Canada as the Allure - or the Pontiac Grand Prix.

Edited by Dragon
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