Canadian auto workers’ strike at Ford engine plants could cripple Big Three
An engine worker assembles part of a Ford V-8 engine on the assembly line at the Essex Engine Plant in Windsor, Ontario. If Unifor workers strike Ford's Canadian facilities, the resulting parts shortage could cripple assembly lines at U.S. plants. | Carlos Osorio / AP

TORONTO—Canadian auto workers were set to begin strike action against Ford Monday when their contract expired at midnight, but the activation of picket lines was delayed as negotiations stretched on past the deadline.

The possible strike by members of Unifor, which represent 5,600 auto workers in Canada, comes as UAW members in the U.S. continue their strike against Ford, GM, and Stellantis, with the possibility it may expand to more plants by Friday.

Unifor President Lana Payne said Saturday that the union has already rejected two offers from Ford. “We’re not close at all,” she declared. “There’s a lot of work to get done to get an agreement by midnight on Monday.”

Neither side has gone public with the details of the negotiation, but the union has previously said it is looking for a substantial pay increase to keep pace with the cost of living, pensions improvements, and guarantees over job security as the industry makes the switch to electric vehicles.

The union said Tuesday morning that negotiations had been extended for 24 hours after it received a “substantive offer” from Ford. The statement added, however, that “Unifor members should continue to maintain strike readiness.”

Ford has two engine plants in Canada that build V-8 motors for the F-series and Super Duty pickups assembled in the United States. It also has an assembly plant in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, Ontario, which has around 3,400 Unifor members. The plant produces the Ford Edge as well as the Lincoln Nautilus SUV.

The two engine plants are located in Windsor, Ontario—just across the border from Detroit—where 1,700 Unifor members build the motors for Mustangs and the F-150 pick-up truck.

If Canadian workers strike at those engine plants, it could cripple U.S. production of Ford’s most profitable vehicles. This would bring pain to the automaker whether or not the UAW decides to order walkouts at truck plants in Kentucky; Dearborn, Mich.; and Kansas City, Mo., on Friday.

“Ours is a small but highly consequential footprint for Ford operations in North America and this is our leverage, and we will use it,” Payne said in a video message to workers on Monday.

This is the first time since 2009—when each of the so-called “Big Three” had to be rescued from the brink of bankruptcy—that contracts have simultaneously expired in the U.S. and Canada.

Contracts have usually expired in different years, but Unifor negotiated its last contract to align with the expiration of the UAW’s contracts with the auto corporations.

Though the UAW is currently striking all of the Big Three, Unifor has chosen to target Ford in the first stage of its negotiation strategy. The union believes that the other two manufacturers can be brought into line by any agreement finally achieved with Ford.

Payne said her members are demanding significant improvements in both wages and pensions to deal with higher prices they’ve seen in Canada.

She said her members were entitled to a share of the record profits made by the Big Three and were feeling the pain of the soaring cost of living in Canada.

She said: “We know our members’ expectations are high,” but the Big Three needed to understand that they were “grappling with higher prices. The world is not the same today as it was five years ago.”


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