The Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) has begun cost-cutting negotiations with Ford Canada with initial talks in Toronto last night.

A key condition to reaching a new agreement will be a commitment by Ford to maintain its current manufacturing presence in Canada, as a proportion of its overall North American production, CAW president Ken Lewenza said in a statement.

His remarks came after new analysis showed that the ‘Detroit Three’ automakers have declined so dramatically in Canada that they now control just 20% of passenger car sales to consumers, compared with almost 60% in 1990.

As a part of the union’s agreements earlier this year with Chrysler and General Motors, both companies committed to maintaining their existing share of production in Canada – approximately 20% of total North American production in each case.

“If Ford Motor Company is serious about reaching a new agreement with our union, it must commit to maintaining, and hopefully expanding, its Canadian production footprint,” said Lewenza.

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“Already Ford’s proportional Canadian presence is much smaller than that of General Motors, Chrysler and even Honda and Toyota. There is absolutely no incentive for our members to approve a contract that makes a number of sacrifices without improving job security and returning our laid off members to the job.”

Unlike its two US-based rivals, Ford has not requested emergency government assistance so there is no government requirement for the union to reach a new cost-cutting agreement. However, the CAW master bargaining committee, with support from shop floor leadership at Ford, decided earlier this summer to enter into talks with on condition that the company’s presence in Canada would be solidified in the long run.

The union represents more than 7,000 workers at Ford facilities in Oakville, Windsor, Brampton and St. Thomas. Any agreement would have to be ratified by members.

The current collective agreement, reached in April 2008, extends until September 2011 and includes no base wage increases.