Unifor picks GM as target in Canadian contract talks – Detroit Free Press
Unifor said Tuesday it has picked General Motors as its target in contract negotiations with the Detroit Three this year, a choice that makes it clear the union wants to tackle its toughest challenge first.
Unifor has made product commitments and jobs its top priority in its negotiations with all three automakers, but GM has said it will refuse to discuss product commitments for its Oshawa Assembly Plant and St. Catharines engine and transmission plant until after a new contract is reached.
“We are not under any circumstances going to sign a contract with GM unless there is a firm commitment at St. Catharines and Oshawa,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said at a news conference in Toronto.
GM declined to say whether it will change its negotiating strategy.
“At GM Canada we remain focused on working with Unifor to reach a mutually beneficial and competitive new agreement,” the automaker said in a news release.
GM’s Oshawa plant — where 2,600 hourly workers are employed — has two assembly lines. The Flex Line builds the Chevrolet Impala, the Buick Regal and the Cadillac XTS. But all three are to be discontinued or moved to other plants.
Dias said Unifor followed the same strategy in 2012 when it picked Ford as the lead company. Since then, Ford has added 2,200 workers.
“If the argument four years ago was we should concentrate on the greatest need, then the same argument must hold true in 2016,” Dias said.
Unifor, like the UAW in the U.S., traditionally picks a lead company in contract negotiations and then uses that agreement as a pattern to complete discussion with the other two automakers.
Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, represents more than 23,000 autoworkers at the Detroit Three and more than 300,000 workers across several industries in Canada.
The union’s contract with all three automakers expires Sept. 19. If there is no agreement by then, Unifor could call a strike.
Dias said Tuesday that a strike at St. Catharines would quickly force GM to stop producing vehicles at its plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, and several other profitable plants in the U.S.
GM makes V6 and V8 engines as well as six-speed transmissions at the plant that are used in a wide range of vehicles including the Chevrolet Silverado and Tahoe and the GMC Sierra and Yukon. The V6 engine powers the Chevrolet Camaro, Impala, Traverse and Equinox; the GMC Terrain and Acadia, and the Buick Enclave and the Cadillac CTS.
“I don’t think there is going to be a strike. I think GM is going to work with us toward a solution,” Dias said.
Dias has repeatedly said that he thinks the future of Canada’s automotive industry is at stake in this year’s contract talks because three plants could close over the next four years if the union is unable to secure new product commitments from the automakers.
Unifor also is worried about the future Ford’s engine plants in Windsor and FCA’s plant in Brampton, Ontario. Each makes products scheduled to be phased out or that could be moved elsewhere unless the automakers decide to overhaul the plants with new equipment and make new or redesigned engines and vehicles there.
Dias said Tuesday he has confidence that Unifor will be able to secure new products for those two plants as part of the union’s contract discussions with those automakers.
In Brampton, FCA builds the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger. Those cars are distinctive members of FCA’s lineup, but they’re made on an aging platform that hasn’t been fully redesigned in years.
“We are comfortable that the existing platform that is in place and the products that are in Brampton today are secure,” Dias said. “But we are going to make sure in this set of negotiations we are going to solidify the footprint and have major discussions with Chrysler about investment within Brampton.”
Brampton also has an aging paint plant and an overhaul of that portion of the plant would help to secure its future.
FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne acknowledged the needs of the aging plant last month after he spoke at a plant in Sterling Heights.
“All plants require investments,” Marchionne said. “There are some structural issues that impact on Brampton about its long-term viability without additional investment, which are not product-related. They relate to the longevity of the paint shop.”
In Canada, this round of contract negotiations with GM, Ford and FCA is almost universally viewed as a turning point for the country’s automotive industry. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne have both talked frequently this year about the importance of the automotive industry.
The outcome of negotiations also is import for thousands of Michigan workers at parts suppliers that make goods bound for auto plants in Canada. In 2013, more than $13.5 billion in transportation equipment, which includes automotive parts, was exported to Canada from Michigan.
“So what is this (round of negotiations) about? It’s about jobs, it’s about investing in Canada. It’s about stopping, I will argue, the exodus from Canada to Mexico and to a smaller extent the southern United States,” Dias said.
Contact Brent Snavely: 313-222-6512 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrentSnavely.