TORONTO — Unifor members on Thursday continued to block access to General Motors’ Canadian headquarters in Oshawa, Ont. Members are protesting the automaker’s plans to end production at a nearby assembly plant.,
Unifor President Jerry Dias said the union’s members would continue to prevent GM Canada employees from entering the building. The move is in response to GM’s plans to stop allocating products to Oshawa Assembly beyond 2019.
“GM headquarters will be down and it will stay down,” Dias said Wednesday. “This is going to become a very major community initiative for us.”
Thursday, the union tweeted from its official Twitter account that it was "another quiet morning inside the GM Canada headquarters."
Unifor's master bargaining committee chairs for General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler jAutomobiles joined Local 222 members at the protest Thursday.
David Paterson, GM Canada vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs, said Wednesday that GM employees would work from home and that the company’s operations would be unaffected. He estimated about 700 GM employees work at the Oshawa headquarters.
“We have the ability to work from home or at other locations, so we won’t be affected,” Paterson said. “We’ll have planned for this and have alternate arrangements.”
Unifor’s action is the latest in an escalating feud between the union and GM. Unifor has undertaken an international campaign to save the Oshawa plant, taking out advertisements in Canada and the United States and staging protests that briefly halted production at the factory and at one of its nearby suppliers. GM Canada, meanwhile, has taken to social media to refute claims by Unifor that the company is moving the Oshawa jobs to Mexico and has repeatedly urged the union to work with it on securing new jobs for workers.
The war of words continued on Wednesday afternoon. At a news conference at the blockade, Dias said Unifor’s actions would happen on an ongoing basis at different GM facilities and suppliers.
“What is happening here today is going to happen tomorrow,” Dias said “It’s going to happen on Friday. It’s going to happen at different locations, General Motors. We’re going to see you at the [Detroit] auto show that runs until the 27th. The simple reality is that we’re not going to stop.”
Dias said Unifor's actions would not include a boycott of all GM products.
“I’ll never call for an outright boycott,” Dias said. “Our members in Ingersoll make the incredible Equinox. Our members that work in St. Catharines provide powertrains for so many different vehicles that are sold in the United States. But I have a real problem with the Mexican vehicles that GM thinks it can just dump on the Canadian and U.S. market. I'll leave it at that.”
In an interview following Dias’ press conference, Paterson downplayed the significance of the blockade and said he “felt bad” for Unifor members who have stood in cold, snowy and rainy conditions.
“There’s nobody in the building today,” he said. “Basically, it’s a protest outside an empty building. I think the urgency, given that, is probably overstated.”
Paterson said GM Canada considers Unifor’s blockade to be illegal, and the automaker could consider taking legal action in response. He said GM has asked local police to stop protesters from blocking the road to the headquarters, though he was unaware as of Wednesday afternoon if the company had filed for an injunction.
“I believe this is an illegal action, so we’ll see how long they’re there,” Paterson said. “I honestly don’t know what our legal staff will do on that, but I presume from experience where Unifor has done this before, generally it’s agreed it’s an illegal action. In past instances, where they’ve done this before, there have been injunctions that have been secured.”
An Ontario Superior Court judge ruled in 2008 that a nearly two-week blockade of GM Canada’s headquarters by the Canadian Auto Workers, a predecessor of Unifor’s, that year was illegal. That blockade was in response to GM’s plan to close its Oshawa truck assembly plant, which would shutter in 2009.
“We’ve been saying for several weeks that we would like the union to sit down and discuss the packages that will be made for affected workers at the Oshawa plant over the next year,” Paterson said. “Until these types of actions are done, that’s not really possible until Unifor is ready to come to the table.”
‘IT’S GOING TO GET UGLY’
Dias said the blockade would be a sustained effort, lasting an indefinite amount of time and again threatened to escalate Unifor’s battle with GM.
“It’s going to get ugly and it is going to get ugly very quickly,” Dias said. “The bottom line is we’re not going away.”
Dias said he was set to meet Wednesday morning with officials in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office to discuss the Oshawa plant. He said he would urge the federal government to get more involved in its fight with GM and said he ultimately wants a meeting with Trudeau and GM CEO Mary Barra.
“I’m looking to get the federal government engaged immediately,” Dias said. “It’s past time.”