DETROIT (Reuters) - The Canadian Auto Workers union said on Thursday it was open to negotiating new wage and benefit deals with embattled U.S. automakers, opening the door to concessions less than a year into three-year contracts.
“Labor costs clearly did not cause the worldwide crisis in the auto industry, and labor concessions cannot possibly solve that crisis,” CAW President Ken Lewenza said in a statement.
“But we can’t ignore the precarious financial state of these companies,” he said.
The move to re-open contract talks with the Detroit-based automakers came on the same day that Ford Motor Co posted a record full-year loss of $14.6 billion.
Ford is considered the strongest of the trio of automakers formerly known as the Big Three.
General Motors Corp and Chrysler LLC had to turn to the U.S. government for a $17.4 billion bailout.
The United Auto Workers, the union that represents U.S. autoworkers, has begun its own round of talks with GM, Chrysler and Ford.
The CAW said it was forced to act to keep Canadian labor costs competitive as the companies restructure under pressure from the U.S. government.
Lewenza and bargaining teams for the three automakers will begin talks as soon as next week, the CAW said.
In exchange for concessions, the CAW said the automakers would have to accept financial assistance from the governments of Canada and the province of Ontario, and make a commitment to future production in Canada.
Any changes to the contracts would also have to be ratified by a majority of members.
“We have consistently indicated that the CAW will be part of the solution,” Lewenza said.
“But the workers could work for free, and it wouldn’t make a difference without a broader national strategy to address this industry’s deeper problems.”
The CAW ratified three-year deals with GM, Chrysler and Ford in May last year. At the time, the union represented some 31,000 workers at the three companies.
Reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Ted Kerr