Unifor President Jerry Dias is asking Canadians and Americans to boycott Mexico-made General Motors vehicles in protest of the automaker’s decision to close its Oshawa Assembly plant northeast of Toronto, with GM saying the protest would cause economic harm in Canada.
“The threat of collateral damage for Ontario based auto suppliers, auto dealers and workers is concerning, especially for an Ontario economy that is now open for business, with every opportunity to now benefit from increased trade with Mexico,” GM Canada Vice-president David Paterson said in a statement.
GM said there are more than 60 Ontario-based auto parts companies that send components to Mexico, including its own transmission plant in St. Catherines, Ont., and stamping operations in Ingersoll, Ont.
“We have done everything possible to avoid making this decision,” Dias said Friday at a news conference.
Unifor also said Friday it has ended a blockade at GM Canada’s headquarters in Oshawa, Ont. Union members had kept about 700 GM employees from entering the facility for two consecutive days.
Dias isn’t calling for a total boycott because he represents members in Ingersoll, where the Chevrolet Equinox is assembled, and in St. Catharines.
“But as GM has choices, Canadian and American consumers have choices,” Dias said. “We’re asking Canadians to stand up to General Motors.”
Dias said it’s easy for consumers to determine which vehicles are built in Mexico.
“If the VIN starts with a three, that vehicle is not for me,” Dias said.
General Motors’ Mexican plants currently assembles the Chevrolet Cruze, Blazer, Equinox, Trax and Silverado; the GMC Terrain and Sierra.
Unifor estimates that 600,000 vehicles, worth $20 billion, are exported from Mexico to Canada and the United States each year.
GM Canada says Unifor inflated the numbers. Paterson says GM imports 36000 vehicles from Mexico to Canada annually. He also says the company only imports three vehicle models from Mexico out of 47 it sells in Canada.
Dias accused General Motors of “using Mexican workers for corporate profits” by “paying them $2 an hour.” He said while the boycott will hurt Canadian suppliers, specifically Linamar and Martinrea, it won’t hurt Canadian workers.
“The Canadian suppliers that supply Mexican plants are located in Mexico. Very few parts from Canada go to Mexico,” he said.
Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz wasn't available for comment Friday and Martinrea didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The automaker said the decision to close Oshawa, which finishes outgoing models of the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado and builds the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala, was unavoidable.
‘On November 26, 2018, GM confirmed that it does not have a viable business case for production at the Oshawa Assembly plant past the end of this year because of a number of economic factors, including rapid changes in the North American car market, the cancellation of Oshawa products and persistent low utilization at the plant,” the automaker said again Friday.
Dias disagrees and wants GM to “live up to their agreement” to keep the plant open through the first nine months of 2020, at which time the current collective agreement is set to expire. He thinks the union and company can find a way to save the plant and its 2,600 jobs.
“Two years in the auto industry is an eternity,” he said. “We want them to come back to the table and live up to the commitment. It buys us some time to find solutions.”
Asked if the union would strike GM's Canadian facilities, Dias said: ``We are not ruling out anything and we are not going to talk today about future plans.''
GM also has not allocated new products to two U.S. assembly plants in Lordstown, Ohio, and Detroit-Hamtrack, Mich. The ultimate fate of those two plants will depend on GM’s negotiations with the UAW this fall. GM has faced a firestorm of criticism over those potential plant closings in the U.S. from members of Congress and the UAW.
UAW Vice-President Terry Dittes earlier this month urged union members and their families not to purchase the Mexico-made Chevrolet Blazer, which began arriving in U.S. showrooms last month.
In a Jan. 4 letter to members, obtained by Automotive News, the leader of the union's UAW-General Motors Department, wrote he hoped "that not a single UAW member, family member ever purchase this vehicle unless it is made in the U.S.A. by our UAW members.
An earlier version of this story misstated which Cadillac vehicle is assembled in Oshawa.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.