How did Canada’s largest private-sector union, with all its institutional knowledge, resources and experience, not see it coming?
That’s the biggest question in the wake of General Motors’ decision to not allot product to its Oshawa Assembly plant beyond 2019.
The automaker said Nov. 26 that production would end at three North American assembly plants — Oshawa, Lordstown Assembly in Ohio and Detroit- Hamtramck Assembly in Michigan — because they would not be given new vehicles to build. Powertrain plants in Warren, Mich., and Baltimore don’t have products assigned after next year either.
GM Canada did not say it would definitely close Oshawa Assembly — and at a meeting between high-level company executives and Unifor officials, the automaker didn’t “unilaterally close the door,” according to the union. But, of all the plants on the chopping block, Oshawa is the easiest to shutter.
That’s because the contract language with Unifor is weaker than the language the UAW got GM to agree to in the United States.
If GM wants to close its Ohio and Michigan plants, it can’t just lock the doors tomorrow. Under its collective agreement with the UAW, GM must negotiate the closure of those plants with the union. Heck, there’s even a slim chance one of the plants survives.
But for Oshawa, management only needs to give one year’s written notice — something they have already done, according to the union. Although, the union has put together proposals to save the plant and GM will respond Jan. 7.
Unifor President Jerry Dias called the Oshawa closure “the ultimate betrayal.” But it might just be that GM held the ultimate ace up its sleeve.
And there’s more about that contract.
No actual “new” product was promised to Oshawa. The big “win” for Unifor was that its rank and file got to produce outgoing, soon-to-be-stale pickups in the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra for less than two years. The truck clearly had an expiration date. An automaker can’t build two versions of the same vehicle forever, yet that didn’t stop Dias from celebrating.
“The fear of a closure in 2019 is now over,” he said immediately after signing the deal. “The facility clearly has a bright future.”
When Dias said he was “incredibly proud of the work of our bargaining committee,” he was speaking about the team that clearly didn’t recognize the market shift to utility vehicles.
Sure, the shift happened swiftly, but not overnight. The move was well under way when Unifor was seated across from GM at the bargaining table in 2016. So, it’s not like the union didn’t see the end of the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala on the horizon.
Dias has vowed Unifor will put up one “hell of fight” to save Oshawa from closure.
My question is this: Why didn’t he fight that fight two years ago, when he had a better chance at winning?