By Tony Leah
Pensions for retirees from GM, Ford and Chrysler/Stellantis were last increased in December 2007. There have been zero increases in the past 14 years. There will be no increases in the next two years. The CAW/Unifor agreed to 5 contracts in a row with no increases for past, present or future retirees.
From December 2007 to December 2021 the cost of living in Canada increased 28.6%. Year by year the purchasing power of our pensions has been eaten away. It is shameful that workers who contributed to the immense profits of the auto companies have been pushed in the ditch in the interests of the companies. It is only the owners who benefit when pensions are effectively cut by 30%. The companies do not have to contribute as much money to the pension plans, and instead shovel more to the “poor” shareholders and executives.
The CAW was formed in 1985 to fight concessions, a cancer that was ravaging the once-powerful UAW. The first years of CAW bargaining made major gains in wages, pensions, benefits, and work ownership language that limited outsourcing and contracting out.
In the first full round of CAW bargaining with GM, Ford and Chrysler in 1987 retired workers put on a major mobilizing effort and convinced the Bargaining Convention to demand indexed pensions. Those who were active at the time will remember that GM responded by threatening to pull out of Canada. We stood up to their bluff, and won PCOLA that protected the value of retirees’ pensions from 1987 to 2007.
On top of that, our bargaining committees negotiated major increases in pensions every one of those 20 years. The 1987 contract increased the monthly basic pension for an assembly worker with 30 years from $676 to $855 immediately. By 2007 that amount was up to $2,055. Over the same period the 30-and-Out amount was increased from $1,205 a month to $3,515 a month. Over 20 years pensions were tripled, far more that the 61% increase in the cost of living.
Concessions, Two-Tier, Ending DB Pensions, “Team” Concept
However, for the past 15 years we have been going backwards. Instead of equal pay for equal work we have 2nd tier workers who start below the average Canadian industrial wage and take 8 years to get to equal pay. Instead of fighting outsourcing more and more of our work goes to supplier companies that pay even less. Instead of secure retirement, we get glorified RRSPs for new hires, the elimination of PCOLA and pensions of existing retirees falling 30% behind inflation. We had SWEs for 10 years and now GM Oshawa is allowed to have 15% “full time TPTs”. (How can you have a “full-time” temporary part-time worker?) And this is all justified by “team concept” and “competitiveness”.
Cooperating with the companies instead of fighting them has had these results for us:
- The starting rate for an assembly worker was $28.82 in 2007. Today it is $23.67. Add in inflation and starting rates are more than 36% lower than 2007 in purchasing power.
- In 2007 the average wage of a full-time worker in manufacturing in Canada was $21.35 and the starting rate of a CAW autoworker was much better at $28.82. By 2021 the positions have reversed – the average manufacturing wage is $29.16 and the starting rate as a Unifor auto assembler is $23.67.
- Even assembly workers at the top rate have not kept up with inflation. The cost of living has increased almost 30% but top rate wages have only increased by 9%. The purchasing power of top rate assembly workers has fallen’ 20% behind inflation.
You Don’t Need a Union to Go Backwards
We have been going backwards for far too long. Concessions were imposed on us because we were told the companies were facing bankruptcy. If that proposition was ever true, it lost its validity as soon as the companies were back in the black. GM was making profits by 2010, and have been making billions of dollars per quarter ever since.
Instead of being partners with the companies’ drive for “competitiveness”, we should be organizing now to fight for major improvements in the next contract:
- Improve Pensions and Restore PCOLA
- Equal Pay for Equal Work – End Two Tier
About the author
Tony Leah is a retired GM Oshawa autoworker and chair of the Unifor Local 222 Political Action Committee.