Foreign-owned “transplant” assembly lines now produce a major share of the vehicles sold in North America but only a handful have ever been organized, a fact that rankles union leaders on both sides of the border.
While the Detroit-based United Auto Workers Union is targeting Nissan and Volkswagen’s U.S. assembly plants, Unifor, the Canadian union that grew out of the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and communications, energy and paperworkers unions, is mounting a major drive to organize employees at two assembly plants operated by Toyota In the province of Ontario.
Toyota officials have told reporters in Canada that the union is unnecessary and they expect the Unifor drive to falter before it reaches critical mass. The fight is similar, in many ways, to the one being waged by the United Auto Workers in the US at plants operated by European and Asian automakers such as Volkswagen, Nissan and Daimler AG.
A Unifor victory in Ontario would certainly be heard throughout the industry. The preponderance of auto plants in the US and Canada operated by Asian and European car companies operate without unions.
Unifor officials think they have a good opportunity to gain traction and point to issues such as Toyota’s widespread use of what are known as permanent temporary. The workers can be employed by Toyota for years and never have the security that comes with having reached full-time status, according to David Cassidy, the financial secretary of Unifor Local 444 in Windsor, Ontario.
Efforts to organize Toyota plants in the US have gained little momentum over the years and the UAW hasn’t done much better with Honda – which opened the nation’s first transplant line over three decades ago.
The UAW is more hopeful of gaining a foothold at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, though the company is far from ready to welcome it in. Meanwhile, Volkswagen is discussing a role for the UAW in its factory in Chattanooga, though no final decision has been made.
Canadian labor law is considered more favorable to unions than American laws, which provide employers with ample room to delay or block unionization by employees.