TORONTO (CP) — A bold move by Canadian Auto Workers leader Buzz Hargrove to support a no-strike provision as part of an agreement with longtime union holdout Magna International has alarmed some industry observers and raised the possibility that it could set a precedent for future negotiation tactics.
''Corporations are corporations and if they think that there's some new era out there, sure they're going to try it,'' United Steelworkers' Canadian director Ken Neumann said in a phone interview from Winnipeg.
He told The Canadian Press on Thursday that while the USW hasn't been approached by executives about following the CAW's lead in new contracts, he would not support a no-strike stipulation if it did turn up.
''Everything that we get we have to bargain for. You must maintain your right to strike,'' Neumann said. ''Employers are not going to give something up if they know that the union doesn't have the clout to extract it from them.''
Hargrove downplayed the no-strike agreement saying that some observers are putting too much focus on the issue.
''These people (at Magna) don't have a union today,'' Hargrove said. ''They have no rights, let alone the right to strike. You can't give up something you don't have.''
Hargrove added later that Magna's workers have made ''no big demand'' to have a right to strike in the past.
The unionization of Magna's more than 18,000 factory employees will only become effective at a plant after it's ratified in a secret ballot vote.
Talks of opening the doors to a union have been tossed around for decades at Magna, Canada's largest auto parts maker, with founder Frank Stronach often pegged as the brick wall between the CAW and workers at more than 60 of the company's factories.
During this week's official announcement of a pact at Magna headquarters, Hargrove and Stronach positioned the move as a major breakthrough in labour relations between company executives and the CAW.
Hargrove said in an interview earlier this week that CAW leaders took the broader implications of the Magna deal into consideration when they made their decision to break with the past.
''We knew that anything we've done at Magna that is different than tradition, that other employers . . . will table whatever they see in it as a good idea,'' he said. ''But our union is strong enough to resist those efforts.''
While the notion of union heads joining hands with employers might evoke ideas of an industrial peace treaty, the motivation behind the agreement is as much about the troubled financial state of the Canadian auto industry as it is about friendly relations.
Over the past two years thousands of jobs at the Big Three North American automakers in Ontario facilities as the industry struggles to fend off growing market domination from foreign manufacturers and a high Canadian dollar that is driving up costs.
The Canadian Auto Workers union, for its part, has expanded its reach beyond the auto sector and now has members in a wide range of businesses including airlines, mines, steel manufacturing and elsewhere.
''I'm not sure given where the industry was at 10 or 15 years ago that I would've done this, but what's happening out there has caused me to rethink my position on a lot of issues'' Hargrove said.
''I'm everyday working in so many different sectors where workers are being thrown out on the street and corporations are pushing lower standards on the bargaining table.''
Hargrove said that the new challenges have forced him to change his tune on many issues, and he hopes that Toyota and Honda might follow suit. They both have non-union plants in Ontario and Hargrove says they have spent ''millions'' of dollars to fend off CAW attempts to form union locals there.
''They're better off to use those resources to defend the industry and to have the union working with them on quality on productivity than it is to be fighting us,'' he said.
But even the suggestion that the CAW will budge from its traditionally hard-nosed stance has alarmed some.
''It really marks an abrupt departure from what the CAW has historically done, which is to base its power on mobilization and the capacity to actually use the strike in a highly effective, but not frequent, manner,'' suggested Charlotte Yates, director of labour studies McMaster University.
''I think it has huge implications for collective bargaining in Canada, and huge implications for progressive voices within the union movement.''