Unifor President Jerry Dias said he is confident the union will reach a deal with General Motors on a new labor contract by the mid-September deadline while acknowledging today that the two sides are “miles apart.”
GM and Unifor today exchanged proposals for a new labor contract, kicking off formal negotiations between the Detroit 3 and Canada’s largest private-sector union.
Though specific details of the proposals were not immediately known, Dias said securing production at GM’s Oshawa assembly plant would be the union’s top priority with the automaker.
“There will not be an agreement with GM until we have solidified the footprint in Oshawa,” Dias said today, speaking with reporters in Toronto.
Dias said it is “a question of when,” not if, GM decides to invest in the Oshawa plant, which produces four vehicles: the Buick Regal, Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Equinox and Chevrolet Impala. All four models are set to have production wind down or moved elsewhere over the next several years.
While GM said earlier this year that it would hire about 700 engineers in Oshawa, GM Canada President Steve Carlisle reiterated today in a statement that the automaker would not decide on new product at Oshawa until after negotiations end.
“We look forward to these contract negotiations with our Unifor partners, which will be about working together toward a mutually beneficial competitive agreement,” GM said today in a statement. “…These negotiations are an important first hurdle in building a business case for future investments in Canada. This business case will also include other partners, such as government, suppliers and our communities.”
Negotiations with GM will cover about 3,860 hourly workers at three GM facilities -- Oshawa Assembly, the St. Catharines Propulsion Plant and the Parts Distribution Centre in Woodstock, Ontario. They will not include the roughly 2,600 workers at the CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, whose contract expires in 2017.
In addition to new investment, Dias has said Unifor will make wage increases a priority, saying workers have not received a pay raise in about a decade.
Unifor’s current labor contracts with the Detroit 3 expire on Sept. 19. Unifor, which represents about 23,000 workers employed by the Detroit 3, in early September will choose a target company from which it will pattern negotiations with the other automakers.
The union will begin negotiations with Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Thursday. Unifor has made securing new product at Ford’s Windsor engine plants and investment in FCA’s Brampton assembly plant the top priorities in negotiations with those automakers.
Most important talks
Dias framed this round of negotiations as the most important in a generation, saying the future of the Canadian auto industry is at stake. He said Canada is looking at “the death of the auto industry” in the country should it fail to reach commitments in Oshawa, Brampton and Windsor.
Despite the challenges Unifor faces in attracting investment away from lower-cost, trade-friendly Mexico, Dias said he is “very optimistic” a deal can be struck with all three automakers by the deadline.
He said Canada’s advantages in education and productivity, as well as a more auto-friendly federal government, make the country an ideal place to invest.