TORONTO -- Canada's Unifor union plans to spend millions of dollars on a cross-border advertising campaign in Canada and the United States as part of its effort to save General Motors' assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., union President Jerry Dias said.
Dias, in an interview with Automotive News Canada, said Unifor is already airing radio ads about Oshawa in the Toronto market, with commercials lined up in other Canadian markets throughout the week. He said the advertising effort before a Thursday meeting between the union and General Motors in Detroit is designed to get the automaker's attention "in a minor way" and promised a "no-holds-barred" media campaign on both sides of the border if GM does not signal that it could back away from its plans for Oshawa.
"After the meeting on the 20th, if we don't get any sort of positive messaging, then there will be a media blitz that GM has never seen. We're not Australia," he said, referring to the nation's final auto assembly plant closing in 2017. "We're not going to take it sitting down."
Dias declined to say specifically where the company has bought advertising, only saying that the union has lined up "high-profile" time slots on TV, as well as ad buys in newspapers and radio. The union has already started a social media campaign called #SaveOshawaGM.
GM in November said it would stop allocating production to Oshawa Assembly and two other assembly plants in the U.S. in 2019 as part of a larger corporate restructuring plan. The plant builds the Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac XTS sedans, both of which GM plans to cut from its North American lineup. It also does final assembly on previous-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup bodies shipped from Indiana. GM plans to stop building those pickups in Oshawa by the end of 2019.
In addition to the ad campaign, Dias said the union would take "major action" in the new year in response to GM's plans. He declined to reveal Unifor's plans when asked if they would involve strikes or other actions.
"We are going to get GM's attention in a very aggressive, meaningful way," he said. "There is nothing that we won't do."
Tensions between GM and Unifor have been high in recent years. In 2017, GM threatened to close its Ingersoll, Ont., assembly plant in response to a monthlong strike there. The two sides reached a deal to keep the plant open, though Unifor did not receive the lead producer designation for the Chevrolet Equinox crossover that the strike was largely about.
The 2017 strike followed tense labor negotiations in 2016 that revolved around the future of the Oshawa plant, which was seen as being in imminent danger of closing. GM would invest $500 million in the plant so it could do pickup final assembly there -- a move GM said was always meant to be temporary.
Unifor leadership has blasted GM's plans to shutter the plant, with Dias calling it the "ultimate betrayal" and rejecting GM Canada's plans to find 2,400 jobs for its Oshawa workers at its dealerships and in other industries.
David Paterson, GM Canada's vice president of corporate and environmental affairs, acknowledged last week that the union has voiced "some strong opinions" on Oshawa.
"We have an obligation and duty to work with our union to determine -- in addition to our pensions and the income supplements our employees will get -- what things we can provide," Paterson told the Canadian Press.
Barring a breakthrough at Thursday's meeting between GM and Unifor leadership, tensions appear likely to rise in 2019 as the union calls for a boycott of GM vehicles.
"Canadians have had enough of General Motors. It's clear that this is the straw that broke the camel's back," Dias said. "The focus of the next year is going to be to educate General Motors on what is going to happen to them in Canada."