The Brampton Chrysler plant did not get the much-desired third shift workers fought for, but the new CAW contract, ratified by an overwhelming majority over the weekend, has the union hoping that expansion may eventually happen.
Leon Rideout, president of CAW Local 1285, said the union could have pushed for more investment by going on strike but that would have put the company back into bankruptcy.
“The agreement we just did with the 10-year progression [in pay] puts us in a good position for investment,” Rideout said. “And that’s the way we explained it to the membership as well.”
Ninety per cent of union members voted Sunday to ratify the agreement, which affects about 8,000 workers at Chrysler plants in Brampton, Windsor and west-end Toronto.
Rideout said plans are in development, but Chrysler could not go public with them in order to remain competitive. “If you put it in a contract and ratify it then it becomes almost like public record,” he said. “So they couldn’t release that.”
Rideout said the new agreement led to a “strong commitment” to maintain two shifts at the Brampton plant.
Adding a third shift would have led to increased investment in the Brampton facility through a new paint shop worth $500 million or more.
Rideout acknowledged it would have been hard to ask Chrysler to significantly invest after putting $1 billion into their plant last year. “Chrysler is still fragile,” he said. “They don’t have tons of money to spend on capital so they are doing one or two plants at a time.”
Still, he said his members are relieved they don’t have to worry about negotiations anymore. “I think we get a bit more security at the plant,” he said.
Rideout believes the contract acts as an incentive for Chrysler to invest in the long-term future of the Brampton plant.
“It’s a good agreement for the company,” he said. “It didn’t drive up fixed costs, and it gives them a strong business reason to continue building product in Brampton.”
Rideout said sales growth will dictate whether or not an additional shift will eventually be added to the plant.
“The order conditions are fairly strong right now, but I don’t see them putting on a third shift unless it picks up even more,” he said.
Rideout said that since the plant launched last year’s products, sales have been up “something like 128 per cent.”
“That’s a good sign,” he said, pointing to the lack of incentives on many models as a sign that sales continue to be strong. “If that trend continues to increase then we may have to, but as of right now there’s no decision to put on a third shift.”
“The demand’s got to be there, the market’s got to be there,” he said.
Chrysler has operated in Canada since 1925 and employs about 8,000 people. Its Brampton plant currently employs approximately 3,100 full-time workers and 400 part-timers.