Extreme Vitriol: Unifor Squares Off With Ontario, Receives Support From Veteran Rockstar

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
extreme vitriol unifor squares off with ontario receives support from veteran

The Ontario government isn’t pleased with Unifor’s handling of General Motors’ decision to close Oshawa Car Assembly. Like the UAW, Canada’s autoworker union has been extremely vocal in its opposition to GM’s restructuring plan. Over the last few months Unifor members have picketed, held multiple rallies, protested the automaker during the North American International Auto Show, called for a boycott, and aired commercials condemning the manufacturer during the Super Bowl.

Todd Smith, Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade, believes all of this has been detrimental to future business investment. “The Unifor message hasn’t been helpful, not just for General Motors but the auto industry in Ontario,” he said during the Automotive News Canada Congress in Toronto.

“We would really like to have a better partner with Unifor so we’re looking after those affected employees in Oshawa. We’re committed with training colleges and universities and the rapid response team that is on the ground there to help with re-training with some of the programs we’re putting in place like the microcredentialing pilot for affected workers and some of the other programs,” Smith continued. “There’s opportunities for those workers, but we need Unifor to come to the table and work with us so we can look after those employees and find them employment elsewhere.”

Unifor has been at odds with the Ontario government for a while now. Back in November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ontario Premier Doug Ford should speak up more for auto workers — leading to accusations from Ford that the PM was “selling false hope and empty promises” to auto workers about to lose their jobs.

At the time, Unifor President Jerry Dias seemed hopeful he could find an ally in Trudeau. In fact, the prime minister had already pledged his support years earlier. “My government is pleased to be a solid partner with workers,” Trudeau told a union crowd back in 2016. “The labour movement believes in justice, compassion, and the growth and success of Canada’s middle class. And on that, our government shares common ground with you … We know that working people are not the enemy. And we know that after a decade of — to be polite about it — neglect, the labour movement deserves fairness from the federal government.”

But a lack of direct support from Canadian officials following GM’s decision to shutter Oshawa has tempered Dias’ optimism. In the union’s eyes, Premier Ford received a downgrade for similar reasons. However, there is now a (provincial) government plan in place. On Thursday, Smith and Ford laid out a $30 million (C$40 million) strategy to encourage investment, retraining, apprenticeships, and more in Ontario’s automotive sector over the next three years.

“Our government understands what auto companies need to thrive and prosper in our province,” explained Ford. “This is like Christmas coming — us getting elected — to industries across the province. They’re as happy as anything. They actually have a business-minded government.”

Dias remains unsold on the idea.

“The only thing that Todd Smith and others are looking to do right now is cover their political backside, Dias said. “I don’t know how the government can say they have the plan to create jobs, but have no plans to save the ones that are already here, and herein lays the problem.”

Unlike Smith, the Unifor president wasn’t at the Automotive Congress. Instead, he attended a rally in Oshawa, fronted by music legend Sting, to protest General Motors — where he unleashed some of his finest verbal vitriol to date.

“You’d think Doug Ford would have been in Oshawa today with the workers. Instead, he tried to create a diversion in Woodbridge and he made a non-announcement,” Dias told Automotive News over the phone. “The media that were here today in Oshawa were all laughing because [Ford] didn’t fool a soul. That was a diversion and he looked stupid.”

“They are a government that lacks any sort of courage,” he continued. “Let’s take their arguments to the next natural progression. Here’s a government that is saying they are going to put procedures in place to help attract investment, yet 14,000 jobs are going to leave Ontario and they are not lifting one finger. So it’s pretty difficult for them to argue with any conviction that they have a plan. What they did was roll out the red carpet for General Motors to leave.”

While only 2,600 employees are slated to lose their jobs at Oshawa, Unifor believes that layoffs could be as high as 14,000 once suppliers and supplementary positions are accounted for.

“I’m fascinated about how this is a government that fancies themselves as [working] for working-class people, but don’t lift a finger to defend them. So here we get Sting, who arguably has no skin in the game at all, does a benefit performance in Oshawa and starts criticizing GM’s decision,” Dias complained. “The Ford government has never once criticized GM’s decision. You know why? Because they believe in GM’s right to close the Oshawa complex more than they believe in the rights of Ontario workers to have good-paying jobs. And that’s the problem. They are looking so stupid.”

Legally, General Motors does have the right to close the facility. Despite Unifor harping on the vast sums of money Canadian and U.S. governments spent to bail GM out during the recession, there’s no obligation for it to continue operating within either nation. However, he does have a valid point about members of his government — many of whom publicly promised to back Unifor in the past, but came up short on delivering the kind of help it expected in its fight with General Motors. At least they’ll always have Sting.

[Image: BobNoah/Shutterstock]

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2 of 12 comments
  • JoDa JoDa on Feb 17, 2019

    "Todd Smith, Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade, believes all of this has been detrimental to future business investment." Ya Think? Dias is a stupid kinda parasite, ain't it?

  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on Feb 17, 2019

    GM has a right to leave, they also have the right to build the sub-par junk they pass-off as cars. Unifor has a right to advertise, call for boycotts, fight for people's jobs. I feel for those folks losing their jobs, and I hope the re-training they've been offered is valuable and successful. I also feel for the far greater numbers of unemployed here in Alberta, whom Ottawa offered to merely extend their EI benefits. Thanks a lot Justin.

  • Jeanbaptiste Any variant of “pizza” flavored combos. I only eat these on car trips and they are just my special gut wrenching treat.
  • Nrd515 Usually for me it's been Arby's for pretty much forever, except when the one near my house dosed me with food poisoning twice in about a year. Both times were horrible, but the second time was just so terrible it's up near the top of my medical horror stories, and I have a few of those. Obviously, I never went to that one again. I'm still pissed at Arby's for dropping Potato Cakes, and Culver's is truly better anyway. It will be Arby's fish for my "cheat day", when I eat what I want. No tartar sauce and no lettuce on mine, please. And if I get a fish and a French Dip & Swiss? Keep the Swiss, and the dip, too salty. Just the meat and the bread for me, thanks. The odds are about 25% that they will screw one or both of them up and I will have to drive through again to get replacement sandwiches. Culver's seems to get my order right many times in a row, but if I hurry and don't check my order, that's when it's screwed up and garbage to me. My best friend lives on Starbucks coffee. I don't understand coffee's appeal at all. Both my sister and I hate anything it's in. It's like green peppers, they ruin everything they touch. About the only things I hate more than coffee are most condiments, ranked from most hated to..who cares..[list=1][*]Tartar sauce. Just thinking about it makes me smell it in my head. A nod to Ranch here too. Disgusting. [/*][*]Mayo. JEEEEZUS! WTF?[/*][*]Ketchup. Sweet puke tasting sludge. On my fries? Salt. [/*][*]Mustard. Yikes. Brown, yellow, whatever, it's just awful.[/*][*]Pickles. Just ruin it from the pickle juice. No. [/*][*]Horsey, Secret, whatever sauce. Gross. [/*][*]American Cheese. American Sleeze. Any cheese, I don't want it.[/*][*]Shredded lettuce. I don't hate it, but it's warm and what's the point?[/*][*]Raw onion. Totally OK, but not something I really want. Grilled onions is a whole nother thing, I WANT those on a burger.[/*][*]Any of that "juice" that Subway and other sandwich places want to put on. NO, HELL NO! Actually, move this up to #5. [/*][/list=1]
  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I owned an 87 Thunderbird aka the second generation aero bird. It was a fine driving comfortable and very reliable car. Quite underrated compared to the GM G-body mid sized coupes since unlike them they had rack and pinion steering and struts on all four wheels plus fuel injection which GM was a bit late to the game on their mid and full sized cars. When I sold it I considered a Mark VII LSC which like many had its trouble prone air suspension deleted and replaced with coils and struts. Instead I went for a MN-12 Thunderbird.
  • SCE to AUX Somebody got the bill of material mixed up and never caught it.Maybe the stud was for a different version (like the 4xe) which might use a different fuel tank.