General Motors Co. could face a punishing strike in Canada this fall unless it agrees to make a firm commitment to invest in the Oshawa assembly complex and St. Catherine’s engine plant, warned the head of Unifor, the union that represents 23,000 Canadian workers employed by GM, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler NV.
Jerry Dias, Unifor president, said during a press conference after the formal opening of discussions with GM that new investment in Canadian operations is critical to outcome of the negotiations. Unifor is the successor to the Canadian Auto Workers union.
“We will do whatever is necessary to secure investment in Oshawa and St. Catherine’s. We hope we don’t have to go there to be candid,” said Dias, noting a walkout in Canada would also roll over the border and force GM to close as many as nine assembly plants in the U.S.
“General Motors knows there will be no agreement unless we solidify the footprint in Canada,” he added. “We have a very respectful relationship with GM. he added. “But the relationship doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have a firm commitment from GM to invest in Canada.
“The auto industry is not going to die in Canada,” Dias added, noting GM last year had made investment commitments totaling $23 billion at plants in the U.S.
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“We’re not going to be at impasse. We’re absolutely expecting they will do that in Canada. We are not going to leave negotiations until we have a firm commitment from GM. We believe GM was not transparent with us seven years ago or four years ago, he added, referring to previous negotiations in which union bargainers had accepted tentative promises of new investment that never materialized.
Dias also said the union expects its members at all three Detroit automakers to get a raise in the new contract.
“We have zero interest in concessions,” Dias said. “There is no reason for us to step backwards.”
The reality is they are making a heck of a lot of money,” added Dias, who said fairness calls for workers, who have not had a raise in 10 years to share in the profits.
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GM said in a statement issued as negotiations got under way that it looked forward to the negotiations with Unifor, which replaced the CAW in 2013 after it had merged with other union in the communications, energy and paper industries.
“We look forward to these contract negotiations with our Unifor partners, which will be about working together toward a mutually beneficial competitive agreement,” the GM statement noted. “We are proud of the experience, quality and productivity of our Canadian workforce.
“These negotiations are an important first hurdle in building a business case for future investments in Canada. This business case will also include other partners, such as government, suppliers and our communities.”
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Unifor’s contracts with GM, Ford and FCA expire Sept. 19, but the union is expected to name a target company prior to the deadline.