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Will Canadian Auto Workers union strike? We may know in 5 days

Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers.
Canadian Auto Workers union

Just five days remain before an existing contract between the Canadian Auto Workers and Ford, GM, and Chrysler  expires. 

Members of the union previously authorized their leaders to call a strike - but it's a double edged sword for the union.

Ken Lewenza is National President of the Canadian Auto Workers.

He says the union is willing to come up with a deal that preserves the Detroit Three's Canadian labor costs as they are now.

But he complains the companies want major concessions, including the adoption of the two-tier wage system the UAW accepted in 2007.

That system pays new hires about half what those with more seniority are paid.  Currently, new CAW workers are hired in at a lower wage, but they advance quickly to the higher wage.

Lewenza says the companies are also demanding that workers pay more into their retirement accounts and pay more for their health insurance. 

"Chrysler, General Motors and Fords are acting like they're in bankruptcy," Lewenza told Michigan Radio.  "The demands that they have against the union are more significant than when they were restructuring the corporation."

A strike would hurt the companies' bottom line, and their competitiveness against foreign automakers.   Canadian workers build some highly profitable, high-volume cars, including the popular Equinox for GM, minivans for Chrysler, and the Edge for Ford.

But a strike would almost certainly hurt the union, too.  A strike might give union employees more of what they want now - but the companies might eventually retaliate by moving production out of Canada in the future, and build more vehicles in the U.S. and Mexico.

That would mean fewer jobs for the Canadian union.