Unifor members overwhelmingly ratified a new three-year contract with General Motors Co., that includes a commitment to invest up to $1.3 billion to revive its Oshawa, Ont., assembly plant.
According to the union, 85 per cent of workers who voted did so in favour of the three-year deal, Unifor said. The contract covers about 1,600 GM workers, most of them at a St. Catharines, Ont., powertrain plant. (The Oshawa plans call for an additional 1,400 to 1,700 workers to be hired by 2022.)
“This contract solidifies and boldly builds on GM’s Canadian footprint,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said in a statement.
The ratification of the GM contract wraps up 2020 auto bargaining between Unifor and the Detroit Three automakers. During the talks, Unifor and the automakers agreed to as much as $4.6 billion in investments in Canadian assembly plants, in addition to new spending at other facilities.
“This agreement provides new product investment for our highest volume products which are the number one segment in Canada. This investment will create jobs and further the growth of our Canadian operations,” GM Canada said in a statement.
The union will next turn its attention in auto bargaining to 2021 negotiations with GM, which will cover CAMI Assembly in Ingersoll, Ont. The CAMI plant, which builds the Chevrolet Equinox crossover, is on a separate contract that expires next year and is not covered under this year’s agreement between GM and Unifor.
OSHAWA UPGRADE ‘IMMEDIATELY’
GM has said it plans to “immediately” start investing up to $1.3 billion in its Oshawa plant to build Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra light-duty and heavy-duty pickups, though the investment is contingent upon receiving government support, according to a Unifor contract highlights brochure. Dias has said he has been in touch with both Ottawa and Queen’s Park, although the federal and provincial governments have in the past signaled a willingness to work with the Detroit automakers.
Dias thanked the governments for coming to the table during talks with the Detroit Three.
“We went into bargaining in the middle of a pandemic, facing great uncertainty. Now, we can proudly say these three contracts will breathe new life into Canada’s auto sector,” Dias said.
In a statement Monday, a spokesperson for the Ontario government said the province will “always work with our federal colleagues, workers and the auto sector to ensure the right conditions are in place to protect and grow” auto jobs. A federal spokesperson said on Sunday that the government has been engaged with Unifor and the automakers “on an ongoing basis.”
The return of vehicle assembly to Oshawa fulfills a major priority for the union since production ended there in 2019. That year, union leadership aggressively fought the decision before Unifor and GM agreed to keep the plant open with a much smaller aftermarket parts operation, which employs about 300 people.
The plans for Oshawa allow for GM to build more pickups as consumer demand for trucks remains high, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three other North American plants that currently build the Sierra and Silverado have largely been running on overtime since the trucks’ 2019 model-year redesigns, according to AutoForecast Solutions LLC.
ST. CATHARINES INVESTMENT
The St. Catharines, Ont., powertrain plant will receive $109 million in investments under the agreement. It will receive transmission work for the Chevrolet Corvette and would continue V-6 and V-8 engine production, becoming the sole source for gasoline engines for light-duty trucks built in Oshawa.
Unifor Local 199 President Greg Brady said GM hopes to start Corvette transmission production in as little as four months. Local 199 represents union members in St. Catharines.
“That’s going to be a tough feat in itself, but we have top-notch trades and installers,” he said.
The investment in St. Catharines fulfills the union’s goal of maintaining jobs there, but Unifor acknowledged in a Nov. 5 update to membership that “questions regarding the future of the plant” beyond 2023 remain unresolved.
“Nevertheless, the company signaled to the union that these investments are a major vote of confidence in a plant that is unrivalled in terms of product quality,” the post reads.
Brady said he felt a sense of relief from workers about the plant’s status during a virtual ratification meeting on Sunday.
“We now know our plant is going to be filled with lots of production,” he said.
Unifor’s contract with GM, like those with Ford and FCA, includes a host of bonuses, raises and changes to the wage grow-in period for new hires. It will now take eight years for new hires to reach the full pay rate, compared with 10 years under previous contracts.