Ford quashes rumors that he would name union leader to Detroit GM contract commission

Ford quashes rumors that he would name Tom Higgins of Unifor, the militant union that represents Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, to the post

Less than an hour after the Toronto Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford promised in his platform to “clean house” at city hall and step in to resolve a looming labor crisis, he announced that a union leader who negotiated contracts with all three major automakers on behalf of the City of Toronto would be heading a commission to do just that.

Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the union representing the city’s unions, had previously come under fire for his association with allies of former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris, who had stripped away the collective bargaining rights of organized labor in a drive to “balance the budget.”

Ford quashes rumors that he would name Tom Higgins of Unifor, the militant union that represents Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, to the post

The Fords arrived at the executive council building with a semi-full media contingent for the emergency staff meeting called by Ford at 1:30pm on Friday. While the mayor had initially wanted an unspecified number of employees, only about four or five media members showed up and one was told by a Ford bodyguard that the mayor would not be addressing reporters. After some shuffling of personnel, and a brief photo opportunity with Joe Pantalone, Ford began holding the meeting inside.

“This is an emergency. The city cannot do what it’s doing in the absence of external help,” said Ford, as his council’s finance chair, Mike Del Grande, slowly worked to explain to council that the city’s 40,000 workers would walk off the job on Friday afternoon for four days in order to finally secure a new deal with the auto firms, all in the face of extremely short deadlines. Del Grande concluded that the current collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire on Monday, “may not pass by midnight tomorrow.”

Ford is expected to present a detailed plan to the council on Friday afternoon and is also expected to introduce his own motion to deal with the labor dispute. As the chair of his cabinet committee, he was able to push through the motion through on the floor rather than through a vote, prompting Del Grande, who spoke first, to suggest that he would be happy to have Ford stay an extra day in order to “change the terms.”

After five minutes of back and forth between Del Grande and Ford’s lead labor lawyer, Penelope Dumont, who is also Del Grande’s partner, Ford told council that he would table a motion for approval of the auto task force, with the addition of two private citizens, at 3:30pm.

Del Grande’s motion, which went through without much discussion, included an unprecedented move. While it was unclear exactly what qualified for a “privileged address,” his stated intention was to also invite his former colleague Kevin Ebert, the Liberal MPP for York-Simcoe, to speak in a “privileged address” at the same time. Ebert was by tradition the councillor who spoke first at council meetings, but as chief legal counsel for the Progressive Conservative party, he had met Ford earlier in the day and struck up a polite conversation with the mayor.

Del Grande noted at the meeting that if no further negotiations occur before the four day strike begins on Friday, workers would not receive any “contingency pay” under the union agreement with GM and Chrysler. But neither Ebert nor the mayor has any interest in negotiating to move the talks out of the courtroom.

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