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FILE PHOTO: Fiat Chrysler logo (REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: Fiat Chrysler logo (REUTERS)

Fiat Chrysler avoids Canada strike with last minute deal

  • Fiat Chrysler makes its Pacifica minivan, a lower-priced version dubbed the Voyager, and the Chrysler Grand Caravan at its Ontario plant.
  • In June it eliminated 1,500 jobs at the facility, citing weak demand.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV reached a tentative agreement with more than 9,000 Canadian autoworkers late Wednesday evening, avoiding a strike at the eleventh hour.

Unifor, which represents about 20,000 workers at Canada’s Big Three automakers, said the two sides had come to an accord less than 10 minutes before the midnight deadline. The union declined to release any details about the new contract ahead of a press conference scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.

The deal came after roughly two weeks of negotiations that carried through the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. Most of the workers it covers are employed at Fiat Chrysler’s Windsor, Ontario assembly plant, which lies just across the river from Detroit, Michigan.

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The Windsor plant represents roughly 10% of Fiat Chrysler’s North American production and is known as the “home of minivans," according to Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Analyst Kevin Tynan.

“From a product perspective, there are worse platforms and nameplates that could be idled for a time, but a shutdown would not be completely insignificant," he said. “FCA’s product portfolio is obviously very truck-focused, so while these are not Ram or Jeep models at risk, they do represent profitable units that are important to the North America business."

Fiat Chrysler makes its Pacifica minivan, a lower-priced version dubbed the Voyager, and the Chrysler Grand Caravan at the Windsor plant. In June it eliminated 1,500 jobs at the facility, citing weak demand.

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The automaker also has plants in Etobicoke and Brampton, Ontario, and other operations in Mississauga, Ontario; Montreal, Quebec; and Red Deer, Alberta. The Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger and Challenger are made at the Brampton site, retro muscle cars built on an aging platform.

Brampton needs more than the Challenger to sustain it over the long term, and a crossover on a minivan platform would make sense for Windsor, given other changes to Fiat’s lineup, said Sam Fiorani, vice president at AutoForecast Solutions in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

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“There is room for another model on two shifts, however, the plant operated on three shifts for so long that workers are more than ready to add another high-volume product," he said of the Windsor facility.

Fiat Chrysler is in the middle of a high-profile merger with French automaker Groupe PSA. The $50 billion deal, announced last December, will result in a combined company named Stellantis, and host brands such as Citroen, Jeep and Maserati. It’s expected to close in the first quarter of 2021.

In September, Unifor reached a three-year deal with Ford Motor Co., which included nearly C$2 billion ($1.5 billion) in investments -- including C$590 million in government subsidies -- that will go toward producing battery-powered electric vehicles at the company’s assembly plant in Oakville, a suburban town west of Toronto. Talks with General Motors Co. will be done last.

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