Government Cash Could Sweeten GM Canada Contract Talks; CAMI Workers and UAW Vow to Support Strike

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

With GM Canada and Detroit Three autoworkers union Unifor making little headway in contract negotiations, the possibility of government subsidies has raised its head.

At week’s end, the two sides were reportedly far apart as the clock ticks down to possible strike action at midnight on September 19. With General Motors as its strike target, Unifor lists new investment and product at the endangered Oshawa assembly plant as its number one demand.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Canadian workers’ union boss is encouraged by talk of indirect federal government intervention.

Citing an earlier report in the Globe and Mail, the publication reports that changes could be on the way for Canada’s Automotive Innovation Fund, created in 2008 to offer low-interest loans to automakers and suppliers.

Unifor president Jerry Dias told the Free Press yesterday that the government has signaled to him its intention of switching the fund from a loan program to one that offers grants.

“Do I believe that that will play a role and provide an assistance to us in our negotiations? The answer is yes,” Dias said.

The possibility of direct government subsidies would certainly sweeten the pot for GM, though the government hasn’t officially declared its intentions, and time is running short to prevent a walkout at three Ontario facilities.

Earlier this week, GM’s CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario pledged to support Unifor workers in the event of a strike. CAMI builds Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers, and is covered by a different collective agreement. If GM workers walk off the job after their contract expires, CAMI’s Unifor Local 88 has pledged to not install replacement parts sent to them by U.S. factories.

Production at CAMI would be hampered by the loss of parts from GM Canada’s St. Catharines engine and transmission plant. Besides St. Catharines and Oshawa Assembly, a parts depot in Woodstock, Ontario would also be affected by a strike.

Subsidies or no subsidies, the union’s goal of keeping Oshawa alive hinges on new products, and there seems to be no movement on that front. After losing truck and Chevrolet Camaro production in recent years, the plant’s two assembly lines are bleeding product. The plant handles overflow production of the Equinox, as well as the Chevrolet Impala, Buick Regal and Cadillac XTS — products that can (and in some cases, will) be built elsewhere. Its Consolidation Line could depart next year, with no guarantees that its Flex Line won’t do the same by 2019.

Speaking to the Toronto Star this week, Kristin Dziczek, director of research at the independent Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said Unifor chose the right tack in seeking new product, but admits the situation doesn’t look good.

“There are no products hanging out there looking for a home,” she said, referring to Oshawa.

Meanwhile, Dias said he’s received support from Dennis Williams, president of the United Auto Workers. The two have a mutual agreement to not undermine any strike action taken by the other — meaning, in this case, that UAW won’t agree to increase production at U.S. plants to make up for a loss of Canadian product.

[Image: General Motors Canada]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Sep 18, 2016

    Not only do the corporate and union lobbyists contribute directly to candidates political campaigns but they furnish airplanes and galas to the candidates and write legislation for them. I am not as familiar with Canada but as for US politics this is standard and accepted practice. Also a candidate for office regardless of party uses party funds to buy clothes, pay debts and loans, and for other personal expenses that are outside their official duties or even the campaign itself. In the US if you are a Federal worker you are not allowed to accept a meal but you can accept a cup of coffee and maybe a doughnut. Politicians are held to a less strict and less ethical standard than a federal worker. This is one of the things that disgusts voters that regardless of political party that this is allowed to happen. Many have more respect for the car car salesman or the prostitute than someone running for political office. Subsidizing industries should not be a function of the Government but the USA is just as culpable as any other country. As for checks from the oil industry going to political candidates I can personally attest to this working in the 80s for an independent oil company. The political system encourages this and if you as a company have an investment in a specific state or municipality then you either contribute to a political campaign or your risk having your business investment jeopardized by a candidate who wins political office that you did not support. This is not right but under the current laws this is acceptable. In other words you pay to play.

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Sep 19, 2016

      Jeff S - We has a Senator just recently get hauled into court for "questionable" government billing of expenses. What made it worse was the Conservative government of the time tried to "pay back" his expenses. It was a PR nightmare for the government but the public has short attention spans. Once the Conservatives lost badly at the polls it was all but forgotten.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Sep 19, 2016

    @Lou BC--Sounds just like the good old USA. Corruption is in all political parties. Many political office holders make a career out of politics and there in lies the problem. The Democrats and the Republicans are very similar in that they are mainly in the business to getting their candidates elected and then take care of their major contributors.

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