|A Ford employee casts his ballot Sunday during a ratification meeting at the CAW Local 1285 Hall in Brampton, Ont. (ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency)
TORONTO — Members of the Canadian Auto Workers union have voted 82% in favour of a new four-year collective agreement with Ford.
The final count came in around 4 p.m. Sunday after 4,500 Ford employees were asked to vote on the proposal in ratification meetings taking place in Hamilton, Windsor and Brampton, Ont.
It's the first victory in battles with the "Big Three" automakers, the union said, with General Motors and Chrysler still trailing.
"I'm satisfied," said CAW national president Ken Lewenza after the results were announced. "To have over 80% of the membership support the bargaining committee and support our objectives, quite frankly, is inspiring. We still have lots of work to do."
The new contract reached on Sept. 17 will create 635 new jobs in Canada over the term of the agreement. The Ford Oakville Assembly Complex, west of Toronto, will see a third shift in body, paint and pre-trim divisions resulting in 230 jobs, along with additional changes creating approximately 300 jobs.
At the Windsor plant, there are 35 more jobs expected to be created.
However, the deal reduces the pay and benefit for new hires -- something Lewenza noted was the best they could negotiate based on the current shaky economic climate. However, it is not a two-tiered wage system, which the union fought vehemently against.
New hires will start at a lower pay rate and it will take longer -- 10 years instead of six -- to reach the current top wage of $34 per hour. The new employees will also have a different pension plan combining some defined benefits with defined contributions.
Lewenza said there is an immediate signing bonus of $3,000 for employees who worked throughout 2012, followed by $2,000 for each of the three years after. Ford is also providing a cost of living bonus in the last quarter of the fourth year.
Ford called the deal a way of "significant cost-savings" for the company.
"By becoming more competitive in our labour costs, we are better positioned to support the growth of the Canadian economy and to provide new job opportunities," said Stacey Allerton, Ford's lead negotiator.
"For every auto job in Canada, multiple supporting jobs are created, and both the company and our employees view that opportunity and responsibility very seriously."
The CAW represents 21,500 members at Ford, Chrysler and GM.
Next up - unionized GM employees are scheduled to vote on their contract Wednesday and Thursday, after the CAW reached an agreement with the automaker last Thursday. Talks with Chrysler are ongoing.