GM-Unifor talks head for deadline; union says 'we are close'

Jerry Dias on GM talks: “We have a long way to go, and we're running out time, and I'm not in a great mood at this moment, to be perfectly candid." Photo credit: Mike Goetz
UPDATED: 9/19/16 11:22 pm ET - adds union comments

TORONTO -- General Motors and Canadian union Unifor remain locked in negotiations with less than an hour remaining before the midnight strike deadline, a union spokeswoman said.

“We feel that we are close,” spokeswoman Denise Hammond said at an 11 p.m. press briefing. “Every minute counts at this point in our deliberations."

She added that “there are a few remaining issues outstanding."

Union president Jerry Dias told Reuters earlier tonight that the two sides have “a long way to go” in negotiations. GM and Unifor remain divided over product allocations at the automaker’s Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant, Dias told Reuters.

“We’re running out time, and I’m not in a great mood at this moment, to be perfectly candid,” Dias said. “We’re not where we need to be, let’s put it that way.”

Dias said GM had made a proposal, but talks were not going as well as he had hoped, he said.

Dias’ tone is a notable shift from this morning, when he said he was "feeling encouraged” by talks.

Deadline looms

The talks are coming down to the wire as the 11:59 p.m. ET strike deadline looms. Dias has said the union will not extend negotiations beyond midnight and will strike GM beginning Tuesday if the sides fail to reach a deal.

“At this point, there is no predictable time that I can advise that there will be a media conference to make a formal announcement,” Unifor spokeswoman Denise Hammond said at an 8 p.m. update to reporters in downtown Toronto.

Hammond said Unifor remains “hopeful” that it will reach a labour agreement with GM as its midnight strike deadline approaches.

Unifor’s top priority in negotiations is securing long-term product commitments at GM’s Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant and at the St. Catharines, Ontario, engine and transmission plant. Of particular interest is the Oshawa plant, where no products are slated for production beyond 2019.

A GM spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

About 4,000 GM workers would go on strike beginning Tuesday if the sides fail to reach an agreement. Negotiations do not cover workers at the CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, which is under a separate contract that expires in 2017.

Inventory on lots

The strike would halt production at the Oshawa plant, which builds the Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Equinox, Cadillac XTS and Buick Regal. The Impala and Equinox are also built at other plants, and the automaker has 38 days of inventory for the XTS and 78 days for the Regal, according to the Automotive News Data Center.

There are no obvious products that could go into the Oshawa plant, analysts say. GM has said it would only make future product decisions after a labour deal.

The work stoppage would also impact production at St. Catharines, which builds V-6 and V-8 engines and transmissions for 12 models, including the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain.

The Unifor local representing workers at GM's CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, which builds those two models but would not be included in the strike, has vowed to refuse to use replacement parts built at other GM plants. That could spell trouble for GM in the event of a long-term strike, as the Equinox and Terrain are among their respective brands’ best-selling vehicles.

GM has 94 days of Terrain inventory at its disposal, and it has 70 days for the Equinox.

Negotiations are taking place as the Detroit 3 increasingly invest away from Canada and toward lower-cost Mexico, as well as the U.S.

Hammond said GM workers should remain on the job “until information is provided” by a local picket captain.

A potential deal with GM will set the pattern for subsequent negotiations with Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler. The union has extended its contracts with the two companies, meaning workers would not be in a legal position to strike on Tuesday.

Unifor has one more media briefing scheduled for this evening, at midnight.

Reuters contributed to this report.

You can reach John Irwin at jirwin@crain.com -- Follow John on Twitter: @JohnDIrwin

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