As crucial contract talks loom, General Motors Canada president Stephen Carlisle issued a plea for a “partnership” with Unifor to ensure the long-term survival of the country’s Detroit Three assembly plants.
“The manufacturing headwinds that we have all been navigating in North America are well understood – including assembly overcapacity, shifting market demand, trade patterns and economic competitiveness,” Carlisle said in a statement. “The partnering approach that helped us win our new innovation mandate is, in my view, the key ingredient that we are taking into industry negotiations between Unifor, FCA, Ford and GM Canada this summer.”
Carlisle was referring to partnerships forged with various stakeholders, including universities, auto suppliers, high-tech firms and government, that were key to his company’s recent announcement to hire up to 1,000 engineers and step up efforts to develop autonomous driving and connected vehicle technology at its research centres in Ontario.
His statement comes on the heels of threats by Unifor president Jerry Dias to call a strike if new products aren’t allocated to GM’s Oshawa vehicle assembly plant and Ford’s two engine plants in Windsor. Unifor also has made securing new investment in FCA’s plant in Brampton a top priority in the negotiations, but it has singled out Oshawa as the most vulnerable of the Detroit Three factories.
Dias said Tuesday, while he welcomed Carlisle’s comments, they did not soften his stand on the union’s demand for new investment.
“I have a lot of confidence in him; I believe he’s sincere in trying to find a solution,” said Dias. “There’s no question, if we don’t have new product for Windsor and Oshawa, we are going to have a fight.”
The senior levels of government also have a role to play in preserving the Detroit Three’s manufacturing footprint in Canada, added Dias. “I’m hoping that the federal and provincial governments will join us to find a solution.”
Last Wednesday, Wynne held a closed-door meeting with Joe Hinrichs, president of the Americas, at Ford’s global headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. The meeting followed Wynne’s announcement that it would be giving FCA Canada grants totalling $85.8 million for its Windsor assembly plant as well as its automotive research and development centre.
While Dias did not know the specific details of the Wynne-Hinrichs meeting, he “assumed” that it dealt with securing new investment and product in Windsor and solidifying the automaker’s manufacturing footprint in Ontario. “So, we are spending a lot of time on this specific issue,” he said. “Ford has been very forthright about their confidence in the Windsor facilities, and has a very clear understanding of what has to be done.”
The automakers, union and governments share “an incredible sense of urgency,” said Dias.
“These issues have to be resolved in the negotiations,” he added. “I’m under no illusions a new engine (for Windsor) is going to fall from the sky prior to the deadline.”
The federal government is currently reviewing the structure of its Automotive Innovation Fund amid industry demands that it follow Ontario’s lead and offer grants as incentives for new investment instead of repayable loans that are taxed as income to automakers.
Despite mounting pressure to act sooner than later, the federal Liberals have yet to unveil any changes that have long been sought by carmakers. Dias suggested that Ottawa was trying to secure product allocation commitments from the Detroit Three.
“What I believe is happening federally is they are waiting for one of the Detroit Three to come forward with a plan,” he said. “I would expect they are going to look at individual projects to see how they can help.”
But time is running out for both Windsor and Oshawa, said Dias. “Three-and-a-half years ago, we thought we had a commitment with Ford that would lead us to a new engine for the Windsor plants. It didn’t happen, and we don’t have another three years. By then it will be too late.”
Carlisle said winning auto assembly investments hinge on “a number of factors.
“As much as some would like to simplify that task, there is no one factor. Each investment is founded upon a complex business case that considers people, plants, policy, partners and competitive economics.”
The negotiations affecting 23,500 hourly workers are expected to gear up in August. The current four-year contract expires Sept. 19.