Unifor President Jerry Dias said that if it were up to him, workers would strike every General Motors assembly plant in Canada and the United States in response to the automaker’s plans to close its Oshawa, Ont., factory.
Dias, speaking with Automotive News Canada on Monday, called GM’s decision to not allocate product to Oshawa beyond 2019 “the ultimate betrayal” and promised the union would fight the move. GM on Monday said Oshawa was slated for closure and that two assembly plants in Michigan and Ohio would not have any allocated products beginning in 2019, among other cuts and changes to its global operations.
The Oshawa plant builds the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala and does final assembly on pickup bodies shipped from the United States.
Dias said he has been in touch with his counterparts at the UAW in the United States and said there would be “one hell of a fight” with GM in Canada.
“I’ve been speaking with the UAW already, and everybody’s furious. If I have my way, I would shut down every GM assembly plant in Canada and the United States,” Dias said. “GM clearly doesn’t give a crap about its employees in Canada or the United States. They continue to beef up their jobs in Mexico.”
Dias did not promise that a continent-wide strike would happen, though workers at the Oshawa plant did walk out on Monday morning in protest ahead of GM’s announcement.
A UAW spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
“We must step away from the anti-worker thinking of seeking simply the lowest labour cost on the planet,” UAW President Gary Jones said in a statement.
Dias appeared to be caught off guard by GM’s plans, saying he received a call from GM on Sunday informing them of the allocation decision after he had already received calls from reporters inquiring about the news.
“We have probably, and they’ll tell you, one of the most highly skilled workforces in the freaking country,” he said. “They have one of the best paint shops globally. We have the best productivity and quality. They’ll lay that all out to you, so why they wouldn’t find a solution for Oshawa is unbelievable.”
Under Unifor's four-year contract signed in 2016, GM must give the union a year's notice before closing the plant. The automaker intends to close the plant in December 2019.
A 2015 study commissioned by Unifor estimated that shutting the plant would eliminate 4,100 direct jobs and reduce Ontario's gross domestic product by C$1.1 billion ($830 million).
“You have to know GM will take one serious hit here in Canada. Consumers have had enough of GM in Canada,” Dias said. “Do they actually think that they’re going to continue to sell cars in Canada?”
'MAKES NO SENSE'
Unifor’s auto director, Dino Chiodo, says “it makes no sense” for General Motors to close its Oshawa Assembly Plant, northeast of Toronto.
The union will have the opportunity to sit down with GM executives Monday and possibly Tuesday, too, Chiodo said.
Chiodo believes the plant deserves to stay open because of its production performance over the years.
“The Oshawa plant is the most efficient, has had one of the best vehicle launches, has set benchmarks and standards on how to do it the right way,” Chiodo said. “It’s fully flexible, one of the few that can build both cars and trucks. It makes no sense to me that they would shut it down.”
Reuters contributed to this report.