By Susan Taylor
TORONTO, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Canada's largest private-sector union said on Wednesday it plans to hold an organization vote for about 7,000 workers at two Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc assembly plants in Ontario early this year.
More than 40 percent of employees at the Toyota plants, in Woodstock and Cambridge, Ontario, have signed union cards, a legal requirement before a certification vote can be held, John Aman, head of organizing for the union, Unifor, said.
Unifor, formed in last year's merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, dedicates 10 percent of its revenue to such union drives and has made Toyota a priority, Aman said.
A Toyota Motor Canada spokesman said the company was unaware of the timing of any such vote.
The CAW had to withdraw a certification application for Toyota from the Ontario Labour Relations Board in 2001 because the requisite 40 percent of a proposed bargaining unit had not signed union cards, Aman said. The International Association of Machinists also withdrew a Toyota unionization bid in 2008 due to inadequate support.
Unifor represents workers at Canadian plants operated by Ford Motor Co, Chrysler and General Motors Co .
Unifor is "very comfortable" with its support at Toyota, Aman said, but he would not specify when the union will hold the certification vote, beyond saying early in 2014.
Key issues that concern workers include being hired on temporary contracts, which have reduced benefits and don't allow participation in the company's pension plan, Aman said.
He said the pension plan itself is also an issue after the company said last year it would put new permanent hires on a defined contribution plan, versus a defined benefit plan.
Toyota, which began assembling vehicles in Canada in 1988, has never laid off an employee, Toyota Motor Canada spokesman Greig Mordue said.
"First, people are hired on contract basis and only when we can make a long-term commitment to them, in terms of their employment security, do we transition them into permanent status," he said.
"Over the past 12 months or so we've hired 1,000 new team members and we've also made 900 contracts permanent," Mordue said.
Unifor, which launched its latest Toyota union drive about 15 months ago, will next increase its efforts at Honda Motor Co Ltd's Alliston, Ontario, assembly plant, where it began a campaign some five months ago, Aman said.