(New throughout with comments from union president, Toyota
By Susan Taylor and Solarina Ho
TORONTO, March 31 Workers at Toyota Motor Corp's
Canadian plants are set to vote next week on whether to
become the first at wholly owned Toyota facilities in North
America to unionize, a push Canada's biggest private-sector
union is confident will succeed.
A "yes" vote would mark a major victory for the union,
Unifor, which has more than 300,000 members, including more than
39,000 in the auto industry, even though previous attempts to
organize Toyota's Canadian plants failed.
"There's no question, there will be a lot of eyes on this
drive," Unifor President Jerry Dias said at a press conference
on Monday, where he was flanked by Toyota employees who said
they wanted a bigger say in their workplace.
Unifor, which filed for union certification at Toyota with
the Ontario labor board on Monday, said it did not want to say
exactly how many workers have signed union cards, citing
strategy. It said, however, that of the 6,500 workers at the
three Toyota assembly plants in Ontario, well over the 40
percent needed for a vote to be held have signed cards.
The results of the vote, which is expected to start on
Monday, will not be known until later in April, the union said.
More than 50 percent of workers would have to vote "yes" for a
union to be formed.
Toyota Motor Co of Canada, which has two plants in
Cambridge, Ontario, and one plant in Woodstock, Ontario, said
that its workers already "have a package that's at, or near, the
top of the industry" and that it was uncertain what more a union
"We don't know what they're going to be able to negotiate
or, frankly, what they're going negotiate away," said spokesman
Greig Mordue. "What Unifor can offer is, frankly, a mystery."
He added that Toyota Canada, which began assembling vehicles
in Ontario in 1988, has never laid off a permanent employee.
Mordue said that that record stands despite such challenges
as the recession, and a 50 percent drop in production for two
months earlier this year due to supply chain disruptions.
If a union is formed, collective bargaining would begin
immediately, Dias said, and would address such key issues as
wages, pensions, contract work, and health and safety standards.
Negotiations would create a Toyota-specific contract, he
added, and not be a "carbon copy" of what was negotiated with
the Detroit 3 in Canada in 2012. Unifor represents workers at
the Canadian arms of General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co
and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
"The auto industry in Canada, and Ontario specifically, is a
C$69 billion ($62.51 billion) a year industry and we want to
protect it," Dias said. That means the union would not negotiate
a contract at Toyota with labor costs that were out of line with
other manufacturers, he added.
Toyota workers are unhappy with temporary contracts, Unifor
has said, which have reduced benefits and don't allow
participation in the company's pension plan. About one-quarter
of Toyota's 6,500 workers are contract workers, Dias said.
The pension plan is also an issue after the company said
last year that it would put new permanent hires on a defined
contribution plan, versus a more costly defined benefit plan.
Unifor said part of its confidence in the Toyota campaign is
a reflection of the movement's home-grown roots. The first union
cards from Toyota in 2012 were photocopies that workers had made
on the back of company bulletins, Unifor said.
The drive gathered speed with last September's
high-publicity formation of Unifor, a merger of the Canadian
Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and
Paperworkers union, Unifor said.
At its two plants in Cambridge, the company manufactures the
Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrix and Lexus RSX 350. The Toyota Rav4
is made at a newer plant in Woodstock.
Toyota, which says its staffing is significantly higher than
the 6,500 estimated by Unifor, can assemble more than 500,000
vehicles annually at its Canadian plants.
In 2008, the International Association of Machinists
withdrew a bid to try to unionize the Canadian Toyota plants
due to inadequate support. That followed a similar withdrawal by
the Canadian Auto Workers in 2001.
Unifor's push comes after the high-profile failure of the
United Auto Workers to unionize workers at a Chattanooga,
Tennessee, Volkswagen plant.
Currently, the UAW represents just one foreign-owned U.S.
factory, a Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois, with around
1,000 workers. Overall UAW membership increased in 2013,
Unifor said that 90 percent of Toyota plants worldwide are
unionized. Toyota previously had a joint-venture auto
manufacturing plant in California with GM that was unionized,
but it shut in 2010. The plant is now owned by Tesla Motors Inc
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Jeffrey Hodgson and Peter Galloway)