September 4, 2012 / 6:38 PM / in 5 years

Canadian auto union, Detroit Three far apart in labor talks

(Reuters) - Less than two weeks before their contract expires, Canadian auto workers and the Detroit auto makers they work for remain far apart in discussions on new labor contracts and frustration is creeping in, union officials said on Tuesday.

“Ken is getting a bit frustrated with the pace of talks...We were hoping for a bit more progress at this point,” said Canadian Auto Workers union spokesman Angela DiCaro referring to Ken Lewenza, the leader of CAW.

Talks between representatives of the CAW and Ford of Canada (F.N), General Motors of Canada (GM.N) and Chrysler Canada FIA.MI continued at a downtown Toronto hotel as the clock ticked down to the expiry of current contracts on September 17.

“We are miles apart,” said Chris Buckley, president of CAW local 222, which represents workers at GM’s Oshawa plant.

In past rounds of talks, the CAW has generally picked a lead company for negotiations around Labor Day. But Lewenza said last week it may break with tradition and continue talks with all three automakers simultaneously.

If the simultaneous talks are not making progress, Lewenza said he would choose a target company to negotiate with first. The decision would likely come at least five days before the expiry of the current contract, he said.

Buckley said talks with GM were “respectful” and that the union did not want a strike. The CAW has received backing from its members to go on strike if agreements are not reached by the deadline.

Ford Canada spokeswoman said the company has a strong track record of working collaboratively with the CAW. She said Ford would “continue to meet in an effort to find innovative, unique-to-Canada solutions to improve the competitiveness of the Canadian operations while providing employees the opportunity to earn a good living.”

Neither GM nor Chrysler responded to a request for comment.

Buckley declined to comment on specific sticking points in the talks. Lewenza said last week that companies have been clear they want to avoid any increases in their fixed costs in Canada. He said his members’ cost of living adjustment (COLA) is one sticking point, because it raises fixed costs over time.

The contract talks were expected to be tough, as companies seek to cut labor costs they say are the highest in the world, and the union argues that workers who helped keep the companies afloat during the financial crisis should share in the rewards of a return to profitability.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz

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