General Motors and Canadian union Unifor remain “miles apart” on labour negotiations and could be facing a strike as Monday’s deadline approaches, the union’s chief said today.
“As of now, we’re clearly headed to a strike,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said in an interview. “But it’s early. I don’t tend to panic. GM understands that there will be no settlement until we have solidified the footprint here in Canada, period. They know that. If we have to go on strike in order to get that issue resolved, so be it.”
Unifor last week selected GM as its target company in contract negotiations with the Detroit Three, meaning it will pattern subsequent negotiations with Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles off of a potential agreement with GM.
A GM spokesman had no comment beyond the company’s previous statement on the talks: "At GM Canada we remain focused on working with Unifor to reach a mutually beneficial and competitive new agreement.”
Dias said securing product commitments at GM’s Oshawa, Ont., assembly plant and at the St. Catharines, Ont., engine and transmission plant remain the union’s top priorities in negotiations with the automaker. He has repeatedly said the union will strike GM if it fails to come to an agreement on products.
“It’s really up to them,” Dias said. “Do they want to inflict harm on themselves, candidly, before they agree, or are we going to sit down and have good discussions about the short term and, more importantly, the long term? They control all of those cards. It’s only a question of when.”
GM has said it will not discuss future product commitments at Oshawa until after negotiations conclude. The plant, which runs two production lines and employs 2,400 hourly workers, has no committed products beyond 2019.
Dias said the union also has yet to have “any real discussions” with GM on wages and other economic issues, though he said “most of the local workplace issues [are] pretty well resolved.”
He said Unifor will not exchange economic gains for fewer product commitments.
“There’s no amount of economics that’s going to move us off our position on product,” Dias said. “It won’t get away from the fact that we need to solidify the footprint. The most incredible economics mean nothing if your plants close.”
Dias said he is confident a deal will be reached before the 11:59 p.m. Monday deadline, when the union’s contracts with the Detroit Three automakers expire. He said he expects around-the-clock negotiations with GM to begin “fairly shortly.”
“We’ve got a lot of time,” Dias said. “But everyone understands that the deadline is on midnight on the 19th and that’s not going to change.”
A strike could have major ramifications on GM production, particularly if workers walk out at St. Catharines. According to GM’s website, the plant builds V-6 and V-8 engines and transmissions for 12 models including the Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain.
About 4,000 GM workers could go on strike. Negotiations do not cover workers at GM’s CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, where its 2,600 hourly workers are on a separate contract that expires in 2017.
Unifor on Monday secured the support of the UAW, its United States counterpart. UAW President Dennis Williams told Reuters the union would “support the Canadian auto workers” but declined to say whether the UAW would refuse extra work to make up for lost production in the event of a Canadian strike.