just-auto.com

CANADA: Union OKs Magna organising deal

By just-auto.com editorial team | 10 December 2007

The Canadian Auto Workers union has approved a breakthrough deal with auto parts giant Magna International that opens up the company's plants to organising drives by the union.

The official sanction by the union came at its annual convention in Toronto and despite a split in CAW ranks about the Framework of Fairness that was signed earlier this year by union president Buzz Hargrove and Magna chairman Frank Stronach.

The agreement between the union and the company, which had been adversaries for decades as the CAW tried to organise Magna plants in Canada, calls for management neutrality during organising drives and a controversial no-strike provision that means any disputes between the two sides that can't be resolved through negotiation will be settled by binding arbitration.

Another contentious clause was that management would have a role in selecting employee advocates, who will take the place of traditional shop stewards.

Hargrove and other senior CAW officials lauded the deal as an innovative breakthrough at a workplace they have been trying to organise for decades. A similar proposal is also under discussion with the United Auto Workers union in the United States, which was tied up in bargaining with the Detroit Three auto makers while the CAW deal was being signed.

But the clause in the agreement that there will be no strikes at Magna plants the CAW has organised angered many union members and led to opposition at some big branches. Those include the biggest CAW 'local' in the country, number 222, which represents workers at the massive General Motors of Canada assembly plants in Oshawa, Ontario, as well as thousands of workers at parts plants in the area east of Toronto.

"Without the leverage the right to strike provides, what other tools do workers have to back up their demands at the bargaining table to improve wages and working conditions?" asked a leaflet distributed by workers from one large Toronto union local.

"The right to strike is central to the collective bargaining process and must never be given up."

Chris Buckley, president of Local 222, echoed that view.

A company called Armada Toolworks in Lindsay, Ontario, has already tabled a final offer that included CAW members surrendering the right to strike, Buckley said.

Given the cutbacks at parts makers and the plants operated in Canada by the Detroit Three, "We should focus all of our attention on our current membership," he said.