UAW President Dennis Williams said Tuesday he is exploring ways the union can support Unifor in its negotiations with General Motors, giving the Canadian union a key ally as it enters the final stretch of negotiations.
Unifor is trying to convince GM to keep its Oshawa assembly open and has said it would call a strike if the automaker doesn’t invest, or pledge to build new cars and trucks, at the Canadian plant. Its contracts with GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles expire at midnight Monday.
Williams said he spoke with Unifor President Jerry Dias on Sunday when they attended a fund-raiser for foster children.”I am going see what assistance Jerry needs. I will work with him as closely as I can.”
While the UAW often competes with Unifor over investments for new products in the U.S. and Canada, Williams also sees Unifor as an ally in the broader labor movement, which strives for a better standard of living for all workers. Williams said he has a lot of respect for Dias.
“Jerry is a smart negotiator. If he gets down to burning the midnight oil, he will give me a call, I am sure,” Williams said. “I truly believe GM and Unifor will find a path.”
Unifor picked GM as its target company on Sept. 6 for this year’s contract negotiations with the Detroit Three, even though the automaker has publicly said it will not discuss future investments at its Canadian auto plants until a new contract is ratified.
GM stuck by that stance Tuesday.
“At GM Canada, we remain focused on working with Unifor to reach a mutually beneficial and competitive new agreement,” the automaker said in a statement.
Dias, who has made jobs and plant investments his No. 1 priority with all three automakers, has said GM will change its mind.
“We are not, under any circumstances, going to sign a contract with GM unless there is a firm commitment at St. Catharines and Oshawa,” Dias said earlier this month.
Dias also has suggested GM will be quickly forced to shut down its plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, where it builds the popular Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain, as well as several other plants if Unifor workers go on strike at the St. Catherines plant.
GM makes V6 and V8 engines as well as six-speed transmissions at the plant that are used in a wide range of vehicles including the Chevrolet Silverado and Tahoe and the GMC Sierra and Yukon. The V6 powers the Chevrolet Camaro, Impala, Traverse and Equinox; the GMC Terrain and Acadia, the Buick Enclave and the Cadillac CTS.
Williams declined to say whether UAW members would refuse to increase production at other GM engine and transmission plants.
“We have to look at what can we legally do, how can we support them in a fashion that is meaningful that doesn’t hurt us, as well,” Williams said.
The union has become alarmed in recent years as all automakers, including the Detroit Three, have built most new auto plants in Mexico instead of the U.S. or Canada.
GM’s Oshawa plant — where 2,600 hourly workers are employed — has two assembly lines. The Flex Line builds the Chevrolet Impala, the Buick Regal and the Cadillac XTS. But all three are to be discontinued or moved to other plants. Together, those plants employ 7,200 workers or about one-third of union members employed by the Detroit Three in Canada.
The other assembly line at the plant, often called the consolidated line, handles overflow production for the Chevrolet Equinox. GM originally planned to close that line in 2008 but has kept it going because of demand for the SUV and intends to shut it down in 2017.
Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, represents more than 23,000 autoworkers at the Detroit Three and more than 300,000 workers across several industries in Canada.