GM rejects union proposal to save Oshawa plant

Irving Hamilton
January 9, 2019

The head of Canada's auto union blasted General Motors Co on Tuesday for pushing ahead with plans to phase out work at its Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant despite calls by workers and politicians in Canada to find a new vehicle to build there.

"We're going to continue to have discussions with them about solutions", Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, the union that represents workers at the plant, told Reuters after a meeting he had with GM officials at the No. 1 USA automaker's Detroit headquarters. "This is the wrong direction for the company", said the release from Dias.

GM officials have said the fate of the US plants is subject to talks with the United Auto Workers union, which represents the USA workers at those plants.

"I am deeply disappointed by the response from the corporation", said Dias at a press conference in Windsor, Ont.

GM announced in November the Oshawa plant will close this year, part of cuts in the US and Canada that will see 14,000 workers in North America out of work and five plants closed.

GM has said the Oshawa closure affects 2,973 assembly line jobs.

"There have been strategic decisions to move products from Canada to Mexico", Dias said.

The union leader referenced how there has already been some customer backlash in Canada against GM products, following the Oshawa announcement.

The company also said about half of the 2,600 hourly workers are eligible for a pension. He added how the Canadian governments and taxpayers also provided $11 billion in subsidies to GM at a time when it faced near bankruptcy a decade ago.

"This is important for the future of the auto industry in Canada, especially for GM workers still here", said Jim Wilkes, executive with Unifor Local 27 in London.

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The company responded the suggestions were too expensive and would further deteriorate GM's competitive position.

He vowed Unifor would step up its current ad campaign urging the company to reconsider.

A large rally has also been planned by the union for 10:30 Windsor on Friday - scheduled to coincide with an investors' meeting GM is hosting across the river in Detroit.

As it stands General Motors in Oshawa will close down in 2019. None of the options were economic, he said by phone.

"The reality is General Motors will only understand if Canadians push them in the decisions they are making", Dias said.

When asked whether he foresees any threat by executives of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles pulling a similar move with the Windsor Assembly Plant - which employs 6,000 workers locally - Chiodo said there are "no major concerns" pointing to a significant difference historically in the union's dealings with the two automakers.

Last month, Unifor presented the automaker with a number of options to keep the plant open.

Photo of the sit-down protest at GM Oshawa courtesy of Unifor. He is not calling for a boycott of GM because it still provides jobs at other Canadian operations.

Graves remembers when GM employed 25,000 in Canada and that is now down to about 8,000 workers, shrinking to barely more than 5,000 when Oshawa closes.

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