CAMBRIDGE — Toyota is treating its employees better as Unifor continues a drive to organize its workforce, says a worker who launched a Facebook page opposing the union.
But the company says the treatment is standard and has nothing to do with the union drive.
"I think Toyota is wising up and they're starting to work with us on a lot of issues," employee Tyler Valletta said Monday. "I definitely notice they have been more receptive to our input."
Valletta, a welder in Toyota's Woodstock plant who worked nine years in the company's Cambridge plant, said he has been working Sundays to help clear up a backlog.
"I've noticed a lot more management on the floor, thanking people, coming over and shaking hands, just the little stuff that really makes it worthwhile," he said. "You're giving up your Sunday to work for them to build cars that we missed because of weather and stuff, and they're there as well. Upper management's there thanking you, free coffee. …
"The fact that there was close to 40 per cent that wanted a union to them was kind of eye-opening. I think that they see that there is a problem here."
Toyota spokesperson Greig Mordue said free coffee and handshakes have nothing to do with the union drive.
"That's the kind of stuff we do all the time," he said. "And, frankly, the fact that we're working on Sunday is unprecedented. We're trying to make up for lost production that we incurred in the January-February time frame, and so we've had to request our team members to support us with Sunday shifts.
"Nobody really wants to be here on Sunday — we recognize that and we respect that — but they're supporting us and we're supporting them, and we're saying we appreciate it, because we do."
Told about Valletta's comments, John Aman, Unifor's director of organizing, said: "That's pretty ironic if somebody that's opposed to the union recognizes that the company is treating people better — because that's exactly what we're trying to do."
Unifor last month withdrew an application that would have triggered a vote on a union. The union had filed the application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board after getting cards signed by more than 40 per cent of a bargaining unit it estimated at 6,500 people.
But Toyota says there are more than 7,500 workers who are eligible to be in the bargaining unit. So the union is busy trying to get more workers to sign cards. In the end, more than 50 per cent will have to vote in favour of the union in order for it to become the employees' bargaining agent.
"We're still at it, we're still all hands on deck," Aman said.
He wouldn't say when the new application will be filed. "As you can imagine, that's information that obviously we can't publicly disclose. … The last thing we want to do is give the company more ammunition and be able to react. … We are still confident that we will get to a vote in the future. For us, it's not if — it's when."
Aman said once Unifor made its first application, Toyota "stepped up their anti-union rhetoric," although the company denies it.
Mordue said Toyota is leaving the decision on a union up to employees.
Aman has his doubts.
"It's against the law if they use intimidation, coercion, threats, but they're a smart, sophisticated company. They have lawyers. They have a way of saying things that might seem pretty innocuous, but … they tread that line without crossing that line."
The most common anti-Toyota remarks Valletta has heard are from workers who feel some group leaders (managers) treat them unfairly.
It's "a pretty common problem for workplaces," he said. "I have friends that work at unionized workplaces, and there are problems there, too. People feel they have been mistreated everywhere, union or not."
Valletta said he believes some workers signed cards only after getting "misinformation" from the union. The anti-union side is now asking them to sign a petition that will be sent to the labour board and Unifor in the hopes of rescinding the cards.
"A lot of people (signed cards) because maybe they didn't like their boss, their group leader or 'Well, I lost some holidays or my raise wasn't big enough,' which isn't really the correct reason in my estimation to do it," Valletta said.
He said the petition will be sent in by the end of the month. "We're trying to get a good number of signatures — you don't want to send it in with like five or 10 or 50."
Aman said he heard that an effort to rescind cards "fell flat on its face."
"This is exactly the type of rhetoric that you hear out there, that somehow people were hoodwinked into signing a membership," he said. "The reality is that the people who work at Toyota are very well educated; they're very smart people. They make the decision based on what's in their best interests if they wish to support or not support the union and we respect that decision."
Toyota currently has no unionized plants in North America.