We want the shortest retooling period possible for the EV transition: Unifor’s Lana Payne
As Unifor makes headlines over negotiations with automakers and grocer Metro Inc., the president of Canada’s largest private sector union says the country’s workers have a window opportunity to seek better working conditions.
A tentative deal between Metro and Unifor suggested a possible breakthrough Wednesday in the month-long strike by employees in the Greater Toronto Area. A day earlier, Unifor said it selected Ford to serve as the lead company in negotiations with the Detroit Three automakers, which also include General Motors and Stellantis.
Lana Payne, Unifor’s national president, said in a Tuesday interview with BNN Bloomberg that there is always a sense of urgency in labour relations – but Canada’s current demographic structure gives workers extra leverage.
“If you look at our demographics, we are going to have a tighter labour market for a long period of time,” Payne said.
“There is a new order to these things right now and corporations in Canada need to make sure that they are paying workers well and have good quality jobs in order to attract and keep people.”
Payne said the union has four key priorities in its contract talks with Ford – which will serve as a blueprint for negotiations with the other two big auto companies.
Those priorities include pension improvements, wages, implications of the electric vehicle (EV) transition and attracting more investment into Canada’s automotive industry.
“Our members have not seen a pension improvement since 2007, just prior to the great financial crisis of 2008 to 2009, so we have some ground to make up there,” she said.
“Wages (are) critically important, as they are at every bargaining table right now, given the state of the cost of living. But also (there is) this whole issue of what happens in the (EV) transition.”
Payne said that the union made “good progress” in negotiations with Ford last week and has made “some progress” with other automakers. She said Ford has been transparent with Unifor about its plans for Canada and its timeline for its EV transition.
“This was a very good foundation for us to work from,” Payne said.
On the transition to EVs now playing out in the automotive industry, she said the union has been informing automakers that “this transition does not work without our members.”
“There's billions and billions of dollars riding on this transition,” she said. “Our members are geared up to be able to make it successful.”
Metro said it had reached a tentative agreement with Unifor on Wednesday. While workers still need to ratify the deal, the development could mark the end of a strike across 27 Metro grocery stores in the Greater Toronto Area that began in late July.
Workers had also started picket lines at Metro distribution centres to prevent stores from receiving deliveries – a move that saw Metro receive a temporary injunction on Tuesday before the two sides returned to the bargaining table.
While details of the deal weren’t immediately available, Unifor Local 414 president Gord Currie said the tentative agreement “acknowledges the economic struggle that many of our members face.”
Striking Metro workers told the Canadian Press earlier in the labour action that they could not afford to buy food from the grocery stores where they worked.
Before Wednesday’s developments, Payne argued that grocery companies have posted good profits and their CEOs are highly paid, so the grocery chains’ workers should be paid enough to get by, too.
“For grocery store companies, they've been doing very well through the pandemic, and post-pandemic, their profits have increased every quarter,” she said.
“They have plans, they have money and what we're saying is, we have members who also have needs. They have to live in this very expensive city.”
With files from the Canadian Press.