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GM-Unifor workers ratify contract, 2% wage increases

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Union workers at General Motors Co. facilities in Canada ratified a four-year contract with Unifor, with 64.7 percent voting in favor of the agreement Sunday. It includes 2 percent wage increases now and in 2019, a CA$6,000 signing bonus and $554 million in plant investments.

The Unifor union said 66.5 percent of production workers at the three GM facilities in Canada voted to ratify, while 56.5 percent of skilled trades workers did.

Vote totals by plants were not immediately available. The deal covers nearly 3,900 union workers at GM’s Oshawa Assembly Plant, St. Catharines Propulsion Plant and a parts and distribution center in Woodstock. Workers at GM’s CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, are covered under another contract with Unifor that expires next year.

Members will receive the signing bonus and lump sums of CA$2,000 to be paid in December 2017, 2018 and 2019. New hires will receive $1,000 in December 2019.

Union members will receive their first general wage increase in nine years, getting 2 percent at ratification and another 2 percent in September 2019, pushing assembler wages to CA$35.78 from CA$34.41 today.

“In the negotiations with GM, the union set clear objectives which we reached, including our top priority to secure investment and product for our members and the future of the auto industry,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said in a statement. “With Fiat Chrysler and Ford we will accept nothing less.”

The automaker said in a statement, “This mutually beneficial new agreement will enable new product, technology and process investments that will preserve jobs and place our Canadian operations at the forefront of advanced manufacturing flexibility, innovation and environmental sustainability. GM Canada is also in discussions with the federal and Ontario governments toward potential support agreements to help optimize the competitiveness of our Canadian operations for the future.”

Negotiations on Monday will shift to Fiat Chrysler, and when a deal is secured the union will shift to Ford Motor Co.

A framework for the GM deal was reached late Monday and averted a possibly costly strike. Bargaining began in August and Unifor selected GM on Sept. 6 as the company it would focus negotiations with because it felt it would be the toughest company.

Colin James, president of Unifor Local 222 which represents the Oshawa employees, said Sunday he thought the deal would pass. “The mood on the floor was pretty positive,” he said.

The deal includes (CA)$554 million in investment with the largest amount — CA$400 million — going to Oshawa Assembly. The facility with 2,400 workers was in serious jeopardy leading up to the talks. Union members there launched a community campaign earlier this year to drum up support for continued investment and new products for the plant which has seen sharp reductions in employment over the past few decades and faced uncertainty of product allocation past 2019.

The contract will bring some Chevrolet Silverado work from GM’s Fort Wayne Assembly Plant in Indiana to the Oshawa plant. Unifor President Jerry Dias early Tuesday said the Oshawa plant would be the first in North America capable of building both cars and trucks.

James said Oshawa is slated to handle final general assembly and paint work for Chevrolet Silverado light- and heavy-duty trucks that would come from the Fort Wayne Plant. Volume is expected to be 70,000 or more a year starting in 2018, he said.

The investment also secures extension of the Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac XTS sedans into 2020, James said. James said Oshawa will pick up some Impala volume from Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly.

The Oshawa plant has two lines: the flex line, which runs two shifts and employs about 1,650, build the Buick Regal, XTS and Impala. The plant will continue to run a one-shift consolidated line that builds the Chevrolet Equinox until the changeover of the program next year; that line employs 750 people.

Details were not provided about any new jobs coming to Oshawa, but Dias and James indicated hiring would be needed.

The CA$150 million investment at St. Catharines is slated to include moving some powertrain work from Mexico, Dias told reporters early Tuesday in Toronto. It also is said to include new transmission work, extended production of the V-6 engine built in the facility and an additional variant to boost fuel efficiency of an existing module. Woodstock will receive $4 million for facility reconfigurations.

It’s not clear if the investment for St. Catharines includes more jobs. The plant employs about 1,400 hourly workers who build V-6 and V-8 engines, six-speed transmissions and other components.

Unifor’s more than 700 GM temporary employees in all facilities will be converted to full-time and the contract includes an accelerated wage grow in for second-tier workers. Dias said new hires will move to a defined contribution pension plan. The plan requires new hires and the company to contribute 4 percent of earnings.

A Unifor spokeswoman said Saturday that if bargaining with FCA begins immediately, a strike deadline of 11:59 p.m. Oct. 10 would be set. Analysts expect Unifor will be focused on securing investment and new product for the Brampton Assembly Plant. The facility has 3,450 employees who produce the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger.

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Staff writer Michael Martinez contributed.