WINDSOR, Ont. — After reviewing several union proposals to keep General Motors’ Oshawa, Ont., assembly operating beyond 2019, the automaker told Unifor on Tuesday it will not reverse its decision to cease production at the plant at the end of the year.
“Unfortunately, all Unifor’s proposals would involve substantial incremental costs and a further deterioration of GM’s competitive position. Having completed an analysis of Unifor’s proposals, GM has determined that it cannot pursue them because they would not combat the declining economic and market factors that must be addressed,” General Motors wrote in a response it submitted to Unifor on Tuesday in Detroit.
Vowing to continue fighting General Motors’ decision to close assembly plant, Unifor Canada President Jerry Dias on Tuesday urged Canadian consumers and senior levels to government to put pressure on the U.S. automaker to keep the factory open.
“This is about choices, it’s not about profits,” Dias said during a news conference in Windsor following afternoon meetings with GM officials in Detroit. “GM, which made [US$6 billion net profit] in the first nine months of last year, has the choice whether or not to pay Mexican workers $2 an hour or pay Canadian workers a decent wage.
“GM has the choice about whether to continue expecting Canadians to buy 300,000 vehicles in a country where they currently build 200,000 or whether they want to invest in a workforce in Mexico which builds one million vehicles and buys about 240,000.”
GLOBAL RESTRUCTURING PLAN
General Motors, which is implementing a massive company-wide restructuring plan designed to save the company $6 billion by the end of 2020, announced in November that after 2019 it will no longer allot product to assembly plants in Oshawa, Ont., Lordstown, Ohio and Hamtramck, Mich. Another undisclosed assembly plant outside North America and a U.S. propulsion plant will also close.
Blaming declining sales of passenger vehicles across the automotive industry and a switch in focus to autonomous and electric vehicles, GM said it would no longer have product for its Oshawa workforce, throwing 2,500 Unifor members out of work at the end of the year.
Specifically, GM said it would stop the truck shuttle program that sees the automaker ship unfinished outgoing models of the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado to Oshawa from a plant in Indiana. The automaker also said it will stop building the Chevy Impala and Cadillac XTS.
GM Canada said in a statement “economic factors created an imperative need to consolidate operations, reduce costs and improve cash flow.”
The automaker wants to now focus on transitioning employees to either retirement, if they are eligible, or new careers.
“Beyond the provisions of any existing agreement between Unifor and GM, GM is vitally interested in further facilitating employee transitions into new jobs and careers after the end of production at Oshawa,” the automaker said. “GM has committed millions of dollars to help support retraining for job opportunities for Oshawa Assembly workers.”
Dias isn’t interested in anything other than saving the jobs and keeping the Oshawa plant operating.
“We are not calling for a boycott, but we are asking Canadian consumers to continue showing their displeasure with this decision,” Dias said.
Dias said that by taking millions of dollars out of the Ontario economy, GM’s decision will have negative impacts on education, health care and infrastructure spending across Canada.
Unifor believes there are short-term solutions which could buy time until a more permanent solution is found to provide Oshawa with long-term product options.
Dias said the fight is not over and vowed to step up a multi-media advertising and marketing campaign which was launched after GM made its announcement in late November.
Dias also said Unifor is not ruling out legal action since it is the union’s position that GM’s decision will violate the current collective agreement which guaranteed Oshawa would stay open until the agreement expires on September 21, 2020.
A rally in Windsor on Friday to coincide with GM shareholder meetings in Detroit is expected to draw thousands of supporters.
Dias also compared U.S. government reaction with that of Canada’s senior levels of government.
“I may disagree with 99.9 per cent of what comes out of (President Donald) Trump’s mouth but at least he’s fighting for U.S. workers,” said Dias.
“And I expect our governments to not cower in the background and say it’s a done deal,” said Dias. “People need government support when they are in trouble and this is that time.”
If GM can close Oshawa at a time when the automotive market is still strong, then no autoworker in the U.S. or Canada should feel comfortable, he said.
UNION PROPOSALS REJECTED
Unifor presented GM with a series of solutions but all were rejected with little or no discussion, he said.
Those proposals include launching GM’s new Blazer in Oshawa rather than Mexico, extending truck production in Oshawa, extending two existing passenger vehicle programs and bringing product back to Canada from Mexico.
The options suggested by the union are not economic, David Paterson, vice president of corporate affairs at GM Canada, told The Canadian Press.
"We studied all of the different proposals in detail, some of which we studied in detail before, and they all added substantial incremental cost and they would not address the economic situation that we have with the shift in the marketplace."
Paterson said in a phone interview with CP that the move in the auto market away from cars means the company has to transition away from the models, while it is too expensive and will take too long to shift other production to the already under capacity Oshawa plant.
He said the union should instead work with the company on timing and transition plans for the close to 3,000 jobs impacted. GM said it has identified job opportunities, is willing to pay for retraining, and is open to negotiations on packages for workers on top of what is already included in contracts.
The company also said about half of the 2,600 hourly workers are eligible for a pension. Retirement benefits include about $3,500 a month, a $20,000 car voucher, and a lump sum payment of about $50,000, said Paterson.
The plant, which once employed 23,000 workers at the height of its production in the 1980s, has been a major part of the Oshawa economy for 100 years.
The scheduled closure will also affect thousands of spinoff jobs in the nearby parts supply industry, which rely upon producing parts for the massive plant which dominates the city’s landscape.
GM’s announcement came 10 years after the Canadian, Ontario and U.S. governments delivered US$62 billion in bailouts to the company after the automaker filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008.
“When GM needed Canada most, we came through with $11 billion,” said Dias. “Mexico gave them nothing.”
GM, which is implementing a massive company-wide restructuring plan designed to save $6 billion by the end of 2020, also announced it is closing plants in Detroit; Warren, Ohio; White Marsh, Maryland and Warren, Michigan.