GM rejects Canadian union pleas to keep Oshawa plant open

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

Detroit — General Motors Co. is moving forward with plans to stop production at its Oshawa Assembly Plant at the end of the year after two meetings with Canadian trade union Unifor.

Laurie Nickel, center left, and her daughter Stephanie hold a sign during a UNIFOR union meeting between the workers of Oshawa's General Motors plant with Jerry Dias, president of UNIFOR, at the plant in Oshawa, Ontario, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. General Motors will cut up to 14,000 workers in North America and put five plants up for possible closure as it abandons many of its car models and restructures to focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles, the automaker announced Monday. (Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press via AP)

After Tuesday's meeting between GM manufacturing leaders and Unifor officers, the second in less than three weeks, GM released a letter to Unifor president Jerry Dias that rebuffed the union's pleas to reconsider plans to phase out the products built at the plant in Oshawa, Ontario that employs nearly 3,000 workers.

"Unfortunately, all Unifor’s proposals would involve substantial incremental costs and a further deterioration of GM’s competitive position," GM's vice president of manufacturing and labor relations Gerald Johnson and president of GM Canada Travis Hester wrote. "Having completed an analysis of Unifor’s proposals, GM has determined that it cannot pursue them because they would not combat the declining economic and market factors that must be addressed."

On the Monday after Thanksgiving, GM announced a sweeping restructuring plan that would include cutting some 8,000 white-collar jobs and possibly closing up to five plants in North America. It's part of an effort by the automaker to improve its free cash-flow position and invest in costly future technologies like electrification and autonomy while facing rising commodity costs, trade uncertainty and a possible contraction of vehicle sales in 2019.

GM's decision Tuesday to move forward with its plans to close the Oshawa plant in the fourth quarter was met with fury by Dias in a press conference following his meeting at the automaker's Renaissance Center headquarters.

He said that GM leaders "in my opinion haven’t reached deep enough or far enough to find a solution. We are not accepting the closure of our Oshawa facilities under any circumstance."

Unifor had proposed that GM consider other ways to keep Oshawa open while still pivoting away from the sedans currently built there, including continuing production of older trucks while the company looks for a longer-term option. While GM is rejecting these suggestions for keeping the plant open, the company said last month it is supporting retraining opportunities for Oshawa employees and working with businesses in the region to help facilitate relocation when the plant phases out production.

Unifor, the union representing workers at the Oshawa plant, is planning a protest in Windsor in response to the Detroit automaker's decision to move forward with the Oshawa idling.

"Hold on," Dias said. "We're not backing down."

Unifor first came to Detroit on Dec. 20 — the same day the union bought front-page, wrap-around ads on The Detroit News and Free Press — as part of a larger effort to convince GM to keep open the Oshawa plant and four other endangered plants in the U.S. Since that meeting, Unifor has launched an international advertising and social media campaign hashtagged #SaveOshawaGM.

After that meeting in December, which Dias said was "frustrating" and "emotional," GM said it would consider Unifor's concerns and come back with any decisions by Jan. 7. GM and Unifor spoke Monday to set up the meeting for Tuesday.

The Oshawa plant, which builds the Chevrolet and Impala and Cadillac XTS, is one of five North American plants GM is planning to indefinitely idle this year as the slow-selling products built at those plants are discontinued. Also on the chopping block is Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, Warren Transmission, Baltimore Operations and Lordstown Assembly in northeast Ohio.

Unifor and United Auto Workers are criticizing GM for investing in manufacturing in Mexico as it reconsiders the viability of the plants the unions represent in Canada and the United States.

Dias has recognized American union workers affected by GM's restructuring throughout Unifor's campaign to keep Oshawa open.

He said Tuesday GM's plans fail to acknowledge "the role of not only Canadian workers but our american counterparts for the success of GM today."

Twitter: @NoraNaughton