UPDATE: Cami workers hit the bricks over Equinox investment guarantee
Unifor is demanding GM makes the Ingersoll, Ont. plant the lead for the popular crossover SUV.
Unifor Local 88 pulled about 2,500 workers off the job as of 10:59 pm on Sept. 17 when the two sides failed to agree on the union’s demand that the Cami plant be designated the lead producer of the Chevrolet Equinox, one of GM’s hottest selling vehicles in the US and Canada. Such a designation would lead to a major investment by the automaker when the vehicle is redesigned next year.
The Globe and Mail reports https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/manufacturing/unifor-workers-go-on-strike-against-general-motors-at-ontario-assembly-plant/article36287381/ a shutdown of the plant, which runs on three shifts, will affect GM’s engine and transmission plant in St. Catharines, Ont., which supplies Cami, while a impacting production at other suppliers that make seats and other components.
Unifor is looking for protection against additional job losses resulting from work being diverted to other GM operations. In July, GM moved production of the Terrain from Cami to Mexico, resulting in 600 layoffs. The Equinox is also manufactured in Mexico.
“Every member understands the importance of reaching a deal that secures production, and what that means to our families and the community,” said Mike Van Boekel, Local 88 Chair at the Cami plant.
GM issued a terse statement encouraging Unifor to come back to the table.
“While General Motors of Canada and our Unifor partners have made very positive progress on several issues over the past weeks, the Company is disappointed that we were not able to complete a new agreement. We encourage Unifor to resume negotiations and to continue working together to secure a competitive agreement.”
“These workers are standing up for good jobs. Not just for themselves, but for the entire community,” said Unifor president Jerry Dias in a statement.
Local 88 members at CAMI voted 99.8% on Aug. 27 to give their bargaining committee a strike mandate.
The plant, which began as a joint venture between General Motors and Suzuki in the late 1980s is now wholly owned by GM. Unifor said the previous contract expired Sept. 17.
GM describes the compact SUV segment as the fastest growing in the world, increasing 49% since 2012 with more than 2.6 million sold in 2016. It predicts the segment will exceed 3 million units by 2022.
The shifting of work to Mexico is a key issue for the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations, and creates significant complications for auto maker labour negotiations, said Brendan Sweeney, project manager at McMaster University’s Automotive Policy Research Centre.
“There’s so much uncertainty. How can they make these commitments today when obviously NAFTA is being renegotiated. I don’t know how they can do that; they’re kind of hamstrung.”
Sweeney said GM and other auto makers were able to reach contract agreements last year, with Unifor securing large investments from GM in its Canadian operations including its assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont.
But workers at the CAMI plant operate under a different contract from other GM employees, and their renewal negotiations have come at a tricky time as auto makers face uncertainty on key policies like how many cars they’ll be able to import to the U.S. from Canada and Mexico, and whether those vehicles will face tariffs.
“Any movement one way or another on those issues will impact what companies do. But the companies won’t do that stuff until they know. So it’s just crappy timing to be bargaining,” said Sweeney.
Borthwick at local 88 said he’s confident the two sides can reach an agreement despite NAFTA, but that union members are prepared to hold out for progress on the key issues.
“We’re going to hold strong until we achieve our goals.”
Files from The Canadian Press.