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CAW: Union gaining ground at Ontario Honda plant

Published August 9, 2012
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Canadian Auto Workers President Ken Lewenza says his labour group is drawing closer to organizing workers at a Honda assembly plant in Ontario, WardsAuto reports, while efforts to get inside two Toyota manufacturing sites are moving more slowly.

“We’re active in Honda, not so active in Toyota,” Lewenza told WardsAuto in an interview. “We’re getting some enthusiastic and strong support, but we’re not there yet.”

CAW starts contract talks with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in September. The outcome of those negotiations could dictate the union’s momentum in organizing the two Japanese automakers’ workers.

As with U.S. counterpart Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers union, Lewenza has his eye on bolstering union membership rolls by organizing so-called Japanese transplants building cars and trucks in Canada.

And not unlike King, Lewenza says he faces “very anti-union employers putting a lot of resources and time into keeping the union out.”

Workers at Honda’s Alliston, Ont., assembly plant, which builds the Honda Civic and CR-V and Acura MDX and ZDX cross/utility vehicles, were recently provided a company handout showing that their wage is on par with the Detroit Three automakers that have production facilities in the region, the website said.

However, the CAW argues Honda’s wage calculations fail to consider items such as lower-paid contract workers at Alliston and include full bonuses not every worker receives.

“When they are doing that in a very concerted way, you know we are getting (Honda’s) attention,” Lewenza says.

Beyond winning comparable wages between the transplants and Detroit Three in Canada, which Lewenza doubts would exist if the CAW were not representing workers at the GM, Ford and Chrysler factories, Lewenza says he seeks a common understanding of the competitive landscape between labour and management.

“We’re all in this together,” he says. “We’re competitors, but if everyone is concentrating on wages, they’re going to go down.”

Weaker wages create a “race to the bottom,” where multinational corporations see no obligation to the communities where they operate, Lewenza says.

Honda officials did not return calls seeking comment on the organizing efforts at Alliston, said the website.

The upcoming talks with the Detroit Three are seen as pivotal for CAW, which tinkered with its payroll structure during the industry crisis in 2009 just as the UAW did to bring all-in labour costs down to the level of transplants in order to receive government bailout money.

Since then, the Canadian dollar has strengthened and Canada has become the most expensive place to build vehicles, automakers say.

Lewenza would like the Canadian government to deflate the value of its dollar to make the region more competitive with countries such as Mexico, which has seen its auto industry grow in recent years while Canada’s has shrunk.

Winning new union members would give the CAW, which represents some 25,000 workers at the Detroit automakers’ factories, greater bargaining power.

Toyota operates a pair of Ontario assembly plants in Woodstock and Cambridge, where Lewenza says organizing efforts have yet to gain traction.

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