By on September 19, 2016

2015 GMC Terrain

GM Canada and the union representing Detroit Three autoworkers north of the border have entered their final day of contract talks ahead of a midnight strike deadline.

Unless both sides achieve a breakthrough today, there’s little reason to believe a walkout at the company’s Oshawa, Woodstock and St. Catharines, Ontario facilities won’t occur as the clock strikes twelve. 

A deal with Unifor hinges on new product commitment from GM Canada, especially for its Oshawa assembly plant. Product is drying up at the century-old plant, which could be shuttered within a couple of years if GM doesn’t allocate new vehicles to its two production lines.

As of yesterday, the product pipeline was still dry, even as Unifor president Jerry Dias put on a cautiously hopeful face.

“I’m feeling much better today than I did yesterday but I’m still not feeling great,” Dias told the Globe and Mail. “We are having some constructive conversations, finally.”

Last week, both sides were said to be far apart in negotiations, with little to no movement on the key bargaining issue. Despite Dias’ claims, a “high-ranking” union source told the newspaper that GM has not offered any new product for the Oshawa plant, which employs about 2,500 hourly workers.

Hampering the talks is the simple reality that GM has no product to send to Oshawa. The automaker’s roster of existing and planned vehicles are all allocated to other plants, while the Oshawa-built Chevrolet Impala, Buick Regal and Cadillac XTS (as well as overflow Chevrolet Equinox production) can easily be sent elsewhere.

GM is Unifor’s target company in this round of contract talks. Any agreement with that automaker will guide contract talks with the remaining two. In the event of a strike, GM Canada’s CAMI assembly plant, covered by a separate collective agreement, has vowed to not use replacement parts sent from U.S. plants. That could halt the production of Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers.

[Image: General Motors]

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21 Comments on “With No New Product Promised, GM Canada Workers Could Walk Off the Job at Midnight...”

  • avatar

    I used to think I understood Union negotiations, but this baffles me. If you are one of the 2500 people potentially losing their job you would want the union to fight to keep it, but Dias seems is a roaring mouse. 2500 jobs is a a very small percentage of the overall number of people GM employs worldwide. I would think Dias should be coming in with new ideas to entice GM to stay in Oshawa not threatening to strike if they don’t get exactly what they want.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t see how this ends well either. If the union was successful demanding product, then Ford and FCA would be hit with the same demands. And GM isn’t going to want to have to promise product in every contract going forward, Canada or US. I don’t see how Unifor walks back from the edge and presents any contract short of this as a win. But they are going to have to.

      • 0 avatar

        “If the union was successful demanding product, then Ford and FCA would be hit with the same demands”

        Not likely, as they’ve both already got strong product commitments. This is Unifor forcing GM to stop playing will-they/won’t-they with Oshawa, as they have been for the past half-decade.

  • avatar

    GM has been in Oshawa for over a hundred years. Before that, the McLaughlin carriage company produced a Buick under licence from Buick. The original plant ,or as we called it” the North Plant, Fabrication” ,was demolished in 2005 .

    The South plant was built in the 50s , and the now closed Truck plant in 67. The contagious Stamping plant opened in 88.

    • 0 avatar

      And without the unions, they’d probably make cars there for another hundred years.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        if it belonged to Toyota or Honda, perhaps. Under GM management, probably not. Unions are the least of GM’s problems. Even a rabid anti-union guy and GM apologist should see that.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t hear Honda talking about shutting down their Canadian operations every time Canada’s currency gets too strong or their government gets too self-defeating. It’s almost like other problems are only worth airing publicly when you have an adversarial relationship with your workforce.

          • 0 avatar

            “I don’t hear Honda talking about shutting down their Canadian operations every time Canada’s currency gets too strong or their government gets too self-defeating”

            This isn’t strictly true. Honda can and does move production around to minimize costs, which is why they moved the Fit to Mexico. Toyota did the same with the Corolla: moving it from Cambridge (my bad, thought it was Woodstock) to Mexico.

            You do hear these kinds of things in any negotiation. For non-union shops, production and job guarantees are usually part and parcel of negotiations with government for grants, loans, tax breaks, etc. Case in point: the hoopla surrounding VW’s Chattanooga plant.

            GM is doing this because, frankly, they want to close Oshawa but don’t want to say when or how. It’s the same reason they wouldn’t commit to job guarantees during the bailout. The union execs aren’t stupid–they see the writing on the wall–but they want some sort of surety for their membership.

            Honda would absolutely do the same thing, only they’d be doing it with the province and the feds only and it would thusly be a little quieter.

      • 0 avatar

        Ford and Chrysler are unionized and still making product. The issue for GM in Oshawa is that the plant doesn’t make anything that wouldn’t be easier or more politically expedient to make elsewhere.

        Union or non-union has nothing to do with it: it’s all down the product and strategy. The issue is twofold:

        * the failure of GM’s Zeta (which was pretty stupid to start with) left Oshawa with nothing to make: the only Zeta made in North America ended was the Camaro, which is hardly mass-market and just screams “make me somewhere else”. Which is what GM did when the Camaro went to the Alpha platform.
        * Oshawa never got another mass-market product after the W-Bodies were canned. For political reasons, everything went to US shops (or for cost reasons, to Daewoo). GM was extraordinarily cagey about committing to Oshawa during bailout agreements with that Ontario and Canadian governments.

        The writing was on the wall when Oshawa got nothing but overflow (the Regal, the Thetas from CAMMI) for the past few years, and burned it’s relationships with the government in the process. By comparison, Ford went all-in revamping Oakville, Chrysler committed, as much as they can, to Brampton and Windsor. Both are union shops.

        On the non-union side, Toyota pulled the Corolla from Woodstock, but replaced it with other mass-market product. Honda is actually over-capacity in Alliston. Even if those two unionized, they do so much volume it’s unlikely they’d move.

        Heck, GM is still investing in St Catharines Powertrain. I would never have expected that, but they’re doing quite well.

        As far as Oshawa goes, though, GM’s is being very cagey. This isn’t union, this is GM legitimately having nothing to make there. With the death of the full-size sedan, there’s nothing Oshawa could build.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t know why you mentioned Toyota “pulling” Corolla production in favor of another desirable product unless it was to introduce confusion to a subject that is obvious to the sane and sentient. Even you know you’re completely full of it.

  • avatar

    “Workers could walk off the job at Midnight” ….What workers ? Consolidated, runs steady days. Second shift at the Flex is over by 10:20 PM. The unskilled maintenance , cleaning, etc is outsourced. They may run a couple of presses in stamping.

    My guess maybe 100 guys in the plant ? With zero production, i can’t see it being a dramatic walk out.

    • 0 avatar

      “Unless both sides achieve a breakthrough today, there’s little reason to believe a walkout at the company’s Oshawa, Woodstock and St. Catharines, Ontario facilities won’t occur as the clock strikes twelve.”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The best Unifor can do is negotiate a soft landing for its Oshawa workforce. That should be their focus.

  • avatar

    So unless the company allocates more production there instead of somewhere that makes (more?) money, they are going to stop working?

    I’m understanding why GM needed to be bailed out.

  • avatar

    A decade ago the Canadian and Ontario Governments paid billions to take 11.7% ownership in GM to help save them from a forced rummage sale.
    In a sane world that taxpayer investment would have come with long-term requirements for GM to keep a certain percentage of its global production in Canada.
    In a saner world GM would have been sold piecemeal and the Canadian factories would have different owners. Most likely, those owners wouldn’t have the financial and political clout to survive a strike by Unifor.
    Instead we have the current situation, where GM is flush with cash and holds all the cards.

    Like it or not, the power of the auto workers has always been the threat of a strike…Mutual Assured Destruction, if you will.
    Now, the survival of GM is secured not by compromise with the workers but by the US and Canadian Govts.
    Without the power to bring GM to its knees, Unifor is reduced to begging its Govt to give GM more handouts so GM will continue to employ them.
    In short, the belief that GM is ‘too big to fail’ has sacrificed the interests of auto workers in favor of the interest of GM.

    Funny how those heartfelt plans to save the working class always entail giving large corporations loads of money, and always have the “unintended” consequence of screwing the middle class.

    • 0 avatar

      “Like it or not, the power of the auto workers has always been the threat of a strike”

      This is actually the whole point of collective bargaining: labour really has no leverage except in numbers. Capital, by comparison, already has the deck stacked in it’s favour.

      This is why labour tends to get snippy when the right to strike is compromised: they quite literally have no other tools in their toolbox. Capital can up and leave, can buy PR, can buy legislation, etc; labour, or at least individual workers, can’t do anything by themselves.

      Personally, I think it’s fair. Unless governments are willing to a) allow open-border immigration, or b) somehow reduce the influence of money in the legislative process, it’s not really fair that only the wealthy get to leverage their power.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        While you are correct, some workers can effectively produce labor shortages by transferring to other companies or other cities. The effect would be companies providing competitive wages, benefits, working conditions, and terms so that workers don’t leave.

        This is what the transplants have done, and it has worked well enough to keep unionization at bay in those cases.

        However, for many workers this approach is easier said than done, since their skill set is not easily transferable.

        Freedom of information is another tool for labor: Unfair wages, working conditions, etc can easily be broadcasted today, unlike any time in the last century.

        I find it interesting that the Unifor discussion is leveraging on product placement rather than wages, since nobody wants to mention how distorted the Unifor wages & benefits are with respect to reality in the rest of the economy.

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