Auto workers at General Motors of Canada say they will not sign any deal that does not ensure new production to save the Oshawa car assembly plant, whose future is only guaranteed until 2018.
“We are not going to leave negotiations until we have a firm commitment from General Motors on product,” said Unifor president Jerry Dias at a news conference on Wednesday, as contract talks officially kicked off in Toronto.
Production on the Chevrolet Equinox ends in 2017, as does the Buick Regal, and GM has limited commitments on the Chevrolet Impala and the Cadillac XTS, all built in Oshawa.
Opening talks with Ford and Fiat Chrysler are scheduled on Thursday, and the union is also looking for long-term investment at Ford’s engine plant in Windsor and Chrysler’s assembly plant in Brampton.
Without investments from the Big Three in Oshawa, Windsor and Brampton during this round of bargaining, Dias said it would mean the death of the auto industry in Canada. “We are absolutely committed that that’s not going to happen,” he said, adding talks continue with federal and provincial governments on financial investments.
“We firmly believe General Motors will exit Oshawa unless we have a firm commitment,” he said, noting the company has been moving production to cheaper jurisdictions.
He pointed out, though, that the company is earning record profits, so its 6,600 members at GM will be looking to be rewarded, as they haven’t had a pay raise in a decade.
“We hope that General Motors remembers that when they were on their heels, in ’08-’09, almost in bankruptcy, that the Canadian and provincial governments gave them $10.8 billion in order to survive,” Dias said. “And the Mexican government never gave them a dime.”
Dias says the union won’t make the mistakes of the past — such as in 2009, when it signed a collective agreement with GM, and “before the ink was dry,” after the ratification, GM announced the closure of the truck plant in Oshawa. Four years ago, during talks, Dias said GM insisted the rumours about Camaro production moving to Michigan were just rumours, but thenOshawa lost the Camaro six months later.
But GM has insisted for the past two years that it won’t make any investment decisions until after it has a labour agreement in place.
“We won’t be in a position to make a competitive investment decision until after we are through the negotiations,” David Paterson, GM Canada’s vice-president of corporate affairs, told reporters.
“We understand that there is a lot of anxiety about Oshawa,” he said, but added that GM is focused on talks that will be mutually beneficial and economically competitive.
Paterson used a hockey analogy, saying it feels like the start of the third period. “We need everybody on the ice to win. And we can’t have people leaving the ice if we’re going to win,” Paterson said, a not-so-subtle reference to strike action.
Paterson emphasized that there is still plenty of time to work out an agreement before Unifor’s contracts with the Big Three automakers expire on Sept. 19.
The union will not name its target company — the one it negotiates with first in hopes of getting the best contract, which will then become a pattern for the other two automakers — until the Tuesday after Labour Day.
While Dias avoided using the strike word altogether, Colin James, president of Unifor Local 222, which represents GM’s workers in Oshawa, was more direct. “Unless we have a product, we will be on strike. It’s do or die for us,” he said in an interview.
He added the company needs to remember who bailed out GM — workers, retirees and the taxpayers of Canada.
“At the end of the day, General Motors are the ones that need to make the right sacrifice.”