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Unifor Picks GM to Start Canadian Contract Talks

Talks will put fate of Oshawa plant on table

Talks will put fate of Oshawa plant on table

Unifor, the union formerly known as the CAW that represents autoworkers in Canada, has made the surprising choice of General Motors as the target company to negotiate a new labor agreement to replace the four-year pact that expires at 11:50 p.m. on September 19. The deal with GM is designed to set a pattern that Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are expected to follow.

It is a bold move given that GM could be the toughest set of talks. That is because the future of the Oshawa, Ont., plant is in doubt, with 2,400 jobs at stake. It is a top priority for the union to get new product commitment for the plant but GM officials have steadfastly said they will not make any decisions on new investment until after contract talks have been resolved, creating a backdrop for an impasse. Union talks are usually the forum to nail down investment promises in return for productivity gains on the part of workers.

Unifor National President Jerry Dias made the announcement this morning at a press conference in Toronto where the talks are being held.

2016 Chevrolet Impala LTZ rear three quarters

GM employs 6,600 Unifor members in Oshawa, Ingersoll, and St. Catharines making the Impala, Equinox, Buick Regal, Cadillac XTS, and GMC Terrain, as well as engines, transmissions, and components. Of the 6,600 members, there are 2,600 working at the CAMI plant in Ingersoll who are not part of the Master Agreement.

Many analysts expect GM to continue to downsize operations in Oshawa until they are phased out completely. Dias has said the union will use its strike mandate if talks don’t lead to new product plans for Oshawa. The union has some clout in a GM strike because a shortage of engines and transmissions from the St. Catherines plant would quickly shut down vehicle assembly plants in the U.S.

Ford and FCA have shown greater willingness to discuss needed investment. On the table is the need for updates to the FCA plant in Brampton, Ont., that makes full-size cars: Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger and Challenger. It has an antiquated paint shop. FCA does not want a strike to disrupt production of the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan that is built exclusively in Windsor, Ont. CEO Sergio Marchionne has hinted that the Chrysler 300 could switch to a front-wheel-drive-based platform in the future and be built in Windsor.

From Ford, the union wants new engines allocated to the two Windsor plants that are not operating at full capacity. Ford does not want a strike that would affect production of the new Ford Edge at its Oakville, Ont., assembly plant.

These Canadian talks will set wages, benefits, and work parameters for about 23,050 Unifor members who work at the Detroit Three companies in Canada. Canada is considered one of the more expensive places to make vehicles and increasingly new investment is going to Mexico and the U.S. instead of north of the border.

Last year the UAW chose FCA as the lead company in their negotiations for a new four-year contract. The talks did not go smoothly but in the end, agreements were reached that improved wages and benefits while instituting a path to removing the second-tier status of new hires so that eventually all UAW workers will receive the same compensation.