By on February 15, 2019

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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12 Comments on “Extreme Vitriol: Unifor Squares Off With Ontario, Receives Support From Veteran Rockstar...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “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.”

    The “right” to have a good-paying job? Never heard of that one before.

    Good-paying jobs are:
    1. *Earned* by the worker by having a marketable skill set, and
    2. Provided by employers as an *opportunity* for workers to fill.
    3. Sustainable only as long as the employer’s business model (and P/L sheet) remains viable.

    GM is finding that Item 3 isn’t working in Ontario, given its long-term commitments to shareholder value and a variety of other causes. Therefore – and unfortunately – the workers will have to find something else to do.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree in it’s not a right to have a subjectively labeled “good” paying job. However globalism is wreaking havoc on the classic supply/demand relationship that employees and employers traditionally had.

      In Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, employers simply need to shrug and complain no one will work for them for the offered wages. Government placates some of them by allowing massive immigration and temp foreign workers numbers. Other employers will simply relocate their operations to cheaper countries. Prime examples of both situations include service sector industries flooded with temp foreign workers and Canadian banks offshoring many of their departments. The average worker is all of a sudden stripped of any bargaining power they may have had.

      I would expect the situation to be similar in the USA, hence why Trump has such a loyal following.

      In the case of GM Oshawa, this is simply the chickens coming home to roost upsetting an old fashioned workplace and rocketing it into the new globalist environment.

      I am also a proud union member who strongly laments the new lay of the land. It is unfortunate that even many of those that are well educated will have to hustle and sweat to succeed in the gig economy.

      • 0 avatar

        UNIFOR wants jobs protected since that in turn protects UNIFOR. The Ontario government is spending 40 million on retraining those workers for other jobs. Those “other” jobs are unlikely to be jobs that fall under the UNIFOR umbrella.

        Canada has a shortage of skilled labour in multiple sectors. There is around 500,000 temporary workers in Canada of which most are unskilled. If laid off UNIFOR workers pickup skilled trades they won’t be competing with this pool of labour. There are laws in place that make it illegal to use temporary foreign workers if there are Canadians available for those jobs.

        • 0 avatar

          You’re right, Lou. The larger issue is whether we devote ourselves to preparing people for the future or work to preserve a past that is fast disappearing. Since the Luddites, there’s been no shortage of people wanting to do the latter, but it’s bad policy and utterly futile.

          Training people to take up the skilled jobs that are going begging, on the other hand, is good policy and has a chance of actually working.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s like *everything* is a “right” now. Meanwhile, TV commercials remind consumers about getting “the ______ that you deserve”. Oy.

  • avatar

    I am a fan of neither Unifor nor GM. If it was not so sad, I would laugh. When things are bad both sides say how they need to be `partners`. When times are good they go at one another with knives. Unifor should have looked at Detroit and noticed how automakers were closing plants and not coming back. Auto execs are humans (or so I am told) and you can just see them roll their collective eyes every time some union exec starts making threats. They treat them like children: shut up, do your homework or I`ll take your toys away.
    It would be nice if either – or both – sides saw the need to change, but I doubt they are capable.

  • avatar

    Todd Smith has a point. His charter is to entice companies to set up shop in the province. Turning on the evening news to see a pitchfork parade doesn’t increase the appeal to do so in the minds of prospective employers.

  • avatar

    I’m 10 year retired GM Oshawa hourly. As an Oshawa resident this subject is discussed in every bar, coffee shop, and house party .

    Jerry Dias was not, and is not an Auto worker . Jerry came from Bombardier/De Havilland air craft. Like all politicians Jerry is eying up his next job.

    In Canada we have a three party system, with the NDP occupying the far left of the political spectrum . The New Democratic Party is the darling of the unions leadership . However the rank and file doesn’t agree, and the voters manage to keep the NDP in the background with 17-18 percent support . The odd time they get lucky, and make it to opposition, or even a majority government . The people of Alberta did that with terrible consequences . 25 30 years ago we did it in Ontario,and we’re still paying for it.

    Jerry has his sights set on snagging an NDP leadership position . Maybe federal, maybe provincial ? Jerry has never seen a camera ,or a microphone that he doesn’t love.

    Here is the word I’m getting from the Bars, and coffee shops, here in the beautiful Shwa …The families, the workers, retirees, and those poor souls in the feeder plants are getting Pi$$ed of at UNIFOR and Jerry Dias.

    The time for rhetoric, and political posturing ,.is over !!! GM has made the decision and it sure doesn’t look like they’re changing their mind anytime too soon.

    Mr Dias.. step away from the cameras, and microphones, do the job you were elected to do. Sit down with GM, and the suppliers and negotiate the best deal you can for the all the folks impacted by this decision .

    Mr Dias ..Your making a huge mistake, putting your political aspirations ahead the well being of the UNIFOR membership.

  • avatar

    Not to fret. Mr. McGuinty left Ontario well positioned to reap the rewards of the booming green energy sector. All of these people will be swept up in hiring blitz any day now.

    Any day…

  • avatar

    “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?

  • avatar

    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.

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