Statement by CAW President Ken Lewenza in Response to Nardelli/LaSorda Letter to Chrysler Workers


    PORT ELGIN, ON, April 17 /CNW/ - The past week has seen an unprecedented
and outrageous series of attacks on Canadian autoworkers and their union. One
after another, business executives and political leaders, working clearly in
tandem, have lined up to denounce the CAW's role in the auto restructuring
process, and to demand that we accept up to $19 per hour in concessions or
else face massive job losses and economic dislocation.
    We heard earlier from Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, Federal Industry
Minister Tony Clement, and Chrysler Canada CEO Reid Bigland. The letter
distributed in Chrysler plants today from Robert Nardelli and Tom LaSorda, a
clear attempt to sidestep and undermine the CAW, is the most offensive yet.
    Let me remind these businesses and political leaders, and the public at
large, of some key facts in this debate:-   Canada has been an incredibly successful and profitable place for
        Chrysler to do business in. In addition to several billions of
        dollars in profits generated here over past decades, the company's
        current activities in Canada are truly enviable. Chrysler enjoys
        significantly lower hourly labour costs, and higher labour
        productivity, in its Canadian plants than in its U.S. plants. It
        enjoys a very high market share among Canadian consumers (in fact, in
        February it sold more vehicles than any other automaker for the first
        time in history). Canada's health care system, infrastructure,
        education system, and research facilities have been and continue to
        be immensely valuable to this company. Canadians deserve better than
        to be threatened by a company which has enjoyed billions of dollars
        in profits here.

    -   Far from being "inflexible" and "intransigent," the CAW has been pro-
        active, creative, and constructive in our response to the financial
        crisis which has enveloped our industry. In May 2008 we negotiated a
        forward-looking contract, months ahead of the contract deadline,
        which saved the industry $300 million per year. Then this March,
        following government instructions that we had to be "part of the
        solution," we negotiated (for the second time in ten months) the
        contract all over again. We settled with GM on provisions which will
        reduce active labour costs by several dollars per hour, and will
        eliminate a billion dollars of so-called "legacy costs." GM itself
        confirmed that this contract meets the goal of preserving Canada's
        investment advantage. Our labour costs will continue to be lower than
        average of all the suppliers selling into the North American market.
        On top of that, our productivity is consistently superior.

    -   Every time we negotiate a new agreement, however, the goalposts are
        shifted by companies who sense an opportunity to inflict long-term
        damage on the credibility and influence of the union. We could have
        reached a valuable new contract with Chrysler, prior to the original
        March 31 deadline that would have provided substantial savings to the
        company (including Chrysler-specific productivity and operational
        changes worth several dollars per hour). But the company, after
        accepting our offers, always wanted more; with President Obama's
        announcement on March 30, our talks were put on the back burner.

    -   Now we face the prospect of our own federal government interfering in
        our negotiations, which were already complex and difficult to begin
        with. The federal government has linked arms with the employers to
        demand exactly the same concessions. Seeing our own government
        echoing perfectly the painful demands made on hard-working, tax-
        paying Canadians by the executives of multinational corporations is
        deeply troubling. Worse yet, by clearly taking sides in private
        negotiations between an employer and the union, and hence emboldening
        the company to keep asking for more, the federal government is making
        it harder to reach a deal.

    -   We do not accept Chrysler's claim that the work of CAW members costs
        $76 per hour. This is an inflated and artificial figure that includes
        many non-relevant factors, such as expenses associated with retirees
        who have not worked at Chrysler for years, and payroll taxes which
        are paid to government not to workers. Perhaps most galling of all,
        Chrysler's number even includes the proportional cost of downtime and
        lay-offs. In essence, we are being "charged" for our own
        unemployment. The best way to reduce that artificial $76 number is to
        put Chrysler workers back to work: that alone would reduce hourly
        costs by several dollars per hour.

    -   And we do not remotely accept the claim that there is cost gap of up
        to $19 per hour between our facilities and non-union auto assembly
        plants in Canada. The Canadian executives of Toyota and Honda have
        described many times their strategy of essentially matching wages,
        pensions, and core benefits to those paid in CAW-represented
        facilities (as a key part of their long-term effort to avoid
        unionization).

    -   Remember, the restructuring of Chrysler and the other companies is a
        complex, high-stakes process. Chrysler's future will ultimately be
        decided by bond-holders (who have yet to accept any concessions) and
        governments. The more we give up, the less bondholders and other
        vested interests will have to sacrifice.

    -   The CAW has a proven track record of ensuring that Canadian plants
        are competitive within North America. It is no accident that Canada
        has attracted more than its share of new investment, and why our
        share of total continental production has actually grown in recent
        years (despite the industry's overall challenges). We will work to
        defend the interests of Canadian autoworkers - both union and non-
        union (since remember, any reductions in CAW wages and benefits will
        quickly be reflected in matching rollbacks in wages and benefits at
        Toyota and Honda). We will ensure that Canadian plants retain their
        investment advantage. If Chrysler or any other company goes into
        bankruptcy protection (an increasingly likely prospect, given the
        stalemate with bondholders in the U.S.), it will not be because of
        us.
For further information: CAW Communications, Shannon Devine, (cell)
(416) 302-1699; or John McClyment, (cell) (416) 315-3202