Auto Council

This was published in the Huffington Post Friday June 10, 2016.

Unifor’s Auto Council made a momentous decision recently about the all-important contract talks to get underway this summer. In two unanimous votes, the 120 delegates passed resolutions calling for each company to commit to bringing new products to Canada, and to specific investment mandates for Canada for assembly and powertrain operations. That means there will be no deals with GM, Ford or Fiat-Chrysler without specific commitments from each that we will have new products made right here in Canada.

For the sake of good jobs and their communities, it is vital that these workers took that stand. That’s because for a decade under Stephen Harper, we had a government that took its foot off the gas pedal and allowed our auto industry to flounder. I have met with auto executives, and talked to them about the challenges they faced under Harper, and they told me the same thing: with Harper signing trade deals that gave imports such an advantage, it’s less attractive to invest in Canada. With other countries recognizing the importance of the auto industry to their economies and to the general prosperity of their people, why invest in a country that for 10 years refused to partner with the industry to create good jobs?

Make no mistake, those advantages are great. Every job in an auto plant creates nine more across the rest of the economy. Jobs at the plants that supply parts to the automaker. Jobs at the contractors that come into the plants. Jobs at the shops and restaurants where the auto workers spend their wages. There is also the taxes paid by auto workers, whether income tax, payroll taxes, sales taxes or property taxes. As we all know, these taxes go to pay for such important things as schools, hospitals and social programs. In short, all the things that make Canada such a great place to live. That is why the auto council took a stand for new investments in Canada as the top priority for bargaining. Without products and specific investment mandates, there are no jobs, and none of the benefits that come from having those jobs in the community.

This is a stand taken by Unifor’s Detroit Three bargaining committees for the future of their communities. These are men and women with families, and children that they hope will be able to find good jobs one day. By making new products their top priority, these workers are looking beyond the life of the next collective agreement. They are looking years, and even decades, down the road to ensure continued long term prosperity for their communities. They are doing this because our federal government under Stephen Harper failed to do so. Where he failed to take action to build the auto industry in this country, the workers themselves are now taking up the task to bring new investment here.

This position in bargaining comes from the shop floor, where the workers recognize the importance of investment in maintaining and creating good jobs. Auto Council, after all, is made up of Unifor Locals at Detroit Three auto plants across Ontario. They bring with them the bargaining priorities from each of those plants. Prior to meeting as a council, the locals from each of the Detroit Three companies met to discuss their main concerns. They then came together as Auto Council to set priorities for the industry as a whole.

Once bargaining starts, they will push for wage and benefit improvements for their members in recognition of the fantastic years each of the Detroit Three has had since the economic downturn, when taxpayers had to help them survived. The CEOs and shareholders have all benefited. Now, it’s the workers’ turn. The top priority will be continued investment and new products in Canada. The bargaining teams, and the members they represent, all know that all other priorities depend on getting that one right.