Professor Richard Block of MSU's School of Labor and Industrial relations calls the U.S. and Canadian auto industries two different animals. In philosophy, he says, Canada negotiates in a traditional way, while the UAW's up for more innovative bargaining, including partnerships to enhance job security.
Much of it's based on the environment, Unlike U.S. workers, Canada's car makers get their healthcare from the government. In negotiations with corporations always talking about the high cost of healthcare, it's a big chip.
He says it gives them the option to focus on high wages and time off--benefits they enjoy to an extent even greater than American autoworkers.
Local UAW workers aren't worried just yet. Their contract doesn't expire until September 2007. Still they have a close eye on these Canadian negotiations, not so much for the union, but for the corporation and the tone they're setting in 2005.
"I think it's just them setting some footing, letting the world know, letting the public know what they wanna do," Local 602 Secretary-Treasurer Mike Belsito explains. He says right now, the UAW's concerns are mostly with market share. "That's where we're staunch. They need to get their own house in order, before they come knocking on our door," Belsito says.
Much to the UAW's disappointment, GM's moved some business out of the U.S. to do that. 2004 was the first year in history Ontario, Canada plants built more cars than the ones in Michigan. (Ontario: 2,701,200 cars, Michigan 2,598,400 cars.)
With contract talks looming, Block cautions: "What GM will do is they'll make some decisions about where to produce based on those differences."
UAW's always said it's their high standards of quality that keep American auto manufacturers in the U.S. Nonetheless, they're keeping an eye on the bottom line, theirs and Canada's, as they write the next chapter in the auto industry book.