October 31, 2016 / 1:52 PM / 2 years ago

Canadian auto union, Ford divided as strike deadline looms

MONTREAL/DETROIT, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Canada’s main auto workers’ union said on Monday that it and Ford Motor Co remain apart in contract talks ahead of a midnight strike deadline, with salaries for recent hires and plant investments among the sticking points.

The failure of talks could see more than 6,000 Ford workers represented by the Unifor union walk off the job.

“Things have been picking up over the last 24 hours but we still have a way to go,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said in an interview early on Monday.

Ford was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

Unifor represents about 20,000 Canadian workers at the Canadian arms of Ford, General Motors Co and Fiat Chrysler . In its latest round of contract talks it has already reach deals with GM and Fiat Chrysler featuring new investments in local plants.

But with Ford, Unifor must secure a deal that also will win majority support from 5,000 workers at an Oakville assembly plant who argue the frame of the deal reached with GM and Fiat Chrysler will make new hires wait too long to reach the top of the pay grid.

Unifor practices so-called pattern bargaining, selecting one automaker to negotiate with and then holding the other two to the terms of that deal.

Ford has said the labor costs attached to the 10-year salary grid agreed to by GM and Fiat Chrysler are too high and has asked for a new class of temporary full-time workers, Dias said.

Unifor must balance Ford’s cost concerns with the desire for investment at engine plants in Windsor, which have about 1,700 workers. At Oakville, where almost half the 5,000 workers are recent hires, some hope to reach the top of the pay grid sooner.

“We’re not going to change this (10-year) grid. Ford already hates it,” Dias said.

University of Windsor professor Tony Faria and labor analyst Arthur Schwartz said one solution may be for Ford to shutter the Windsor plant, which builds V8 and V10 engines for pick-up trucks, and introduce a more fuel efficient model at the plant in nearby Essex, Ontario.

Analysts said a short-term strike would have limited impact on Ford’s wider operations. The Oakville plant is Ford’s global supplier of the strong-selling Ford Edge crossover but data from Automotive News shows the vehicle has a 78-day supply.

However, Schwartz said that Ford is strike-averse. “It’s not in their recent DNA.” (Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Bill Trott)

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