Unifor launches campaign to save GM Oshawa plant

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Union leaders representing workers at General Motors Co.’s Oshawa Assembly Plant in Ontario launched a community campaign called “GM Oshawa Matters” on Tuesday to help save the plant from a possible closure.

GM has said it will not make a final decision on the Oshawa plant until contract negotiations with Unifor are completed this fall, while the union has said it won’t agree to a contract without new vehicles and investment being secured for the Oshawa plant.

“General Motors has not given any indication on their plan to invest in Oshawa this fall,” said Unifor Local 222 President Colin James, adding members are worried about their jobs.

Talks between GM and Unifor are set to begin Aug. 10 and the contract expires in mid-September. A strike authorization vote for Unifor Local 222 members has been set for Aug. 28 and a message to workers encourages them to send GM a message: “Our membership’s strong mandate for strike authorization sends the corporation clear notification that the membership supports its bargaining committee and is prepared to strike if need be.”

Unifor Local 222 on Tuesday held a press conference in Oshawa about the campaign. The national Unifor union also took to Twitter, tweeting: “GMOshawaMatters @GMCanada needs to know #noproductnocontract.”

GM Canada President Steve Carlisle, in a community update issued Tuesday, said GM remains committed to a strong business in Canada, including assembly production and its recently secured new engineering work. Earlier this month, GM announced it would add more than 700 engineering jobs in Ontario, including in Oshawa, over the next few years. The company plans to expand its engineering and software development work for connected, self-driving and alternative-fuel vehicles.

“The partnering approach that helped us win our new innovation mandate is, in my view, the key ingredient that we are taking into industry negotiations between Unifor, FCA, Ford and GM Canada this summer,” Carlisle said. “The manufacturing headwinds that we have all been navigating in North America are well-understood — including assembly overcapacity, shifting market demand, trade patterns and economic competitiveness.”

The Oshawa Assembly Plant has about 2,600 hourly production and skilled trades workers. Last fall, GM shifted production of the Chevrolet Camaro to the Lansing Grand River Plant, cutting about 1,000 jobs in Oshawa. In 2009, GM shuttered the Oshawa truck plant.

The Oshawa plant has two production lines: the two-shift Flex Line that builds the Chevrolet Impala, Buick Regal and Cadillac XTS; and the one-shift Consolidated Line that builds the Impala Limited, a fleet vehicle, and the Chevrolet Equinox.

Analysts have said for years the Oshawa plant is at risk of closure because every vehicle GM builds in Canada could be built elsewhere in North America. GM many times has slated to close the consolidated line but demand for vehicles has kept it going.

Unifor Local 222 says GM plans to build the next-generation Equinox in Mexico and at its Cami Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario.

James said the Regal will be built until summer 2017 at the plant, while the next-generation will be sourced from China. Equinox production also is slated to end in summer 2017, the Impala is also built at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and XTS volume is too low to “keep the facility running,” he said.

James, in a telephone interview Tuesday, said it wouldn’t be right if GM closed Canada facilities and invests in “Mexico and China, places that did nothing for them in financial difficulties.”

“We believe they need to reward the community that has ... supported them for some many years,” James said.

The local union also wrote a letter this month to the ministers of economic development and workforce development in Ottawa, seeking their help to “hold GM accountable.” Unifor Local 222 has a petition on its website, which seeks to ask the House of Commons in Parliament to “hold GM accountable to the community when it was supported in 2009 by investments by Ottawa that saved GM from bankruptcy; with the appropriate Ministers immediately commencing discussions with senior management of General Motors Company to determine the future of the Oshawa GM Autoplex and report in a timely manner the results of these discussions to the Canadian taxpayers.”

Last week, the Oshawa City Council also passed resolutions for the mayor to invite GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra to tour the city and meet with stakeholders and that GM assign electric vehicle production to the Oshawa plant.