Canadian union calls for boycott of Mexican-built GM cars

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
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.

Canadian union Unifor is calling for a boycott of Mexican-built General Motors Co. vehicles in a continued effort to save the Oshawa Assembly Plant, set to close at the end of this year.

Unifor President Jerry Dias announced the boycott Friday, which the union will promote with ads on TV, in print and on billboards as part of the larger #SaveOshawaGM ad campaign that launched late last year.

The call for a boycott by Canadian and U.S. buyers is largely designed to get GM's attention and bring the automaker back to the table for negotiations, Dias said. After two meetings between Unifor leaders and GM manufacturing leaders, GM rejected the union's pleas to keep the Ontario plant open.

"GM is arrogant to the point they think they can close our assembly plants (in Canada and the U.S.) while ramping up production in Mexico," Dias said. "While GM has choices, Canadian and American consumers also have choices."

A spokesman for the United Auto Workers said the U.S. union was not aware of Unifor's boycott campaign. Dias and UAW President Gary Jones have a meeting scheduled for the first week of February, and Dias says the purpose of that meeting will be to discuss the boycott.

The UAW said it is not calling for a boycott of the purchase or lease of GM vehicles from Mexico.

Unifor and the United Auto Workers have long encouraged members and consumers to buy union-built vehicles, often with the goal of excluding Mexican-built vehicles from shopping list, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research.

"This is not a huge change from that," Dziczek said. "It’s an effective message for a small population of people, but I don’t know how much impact it can have."

Leveraging such a boycott, even limited to Mexican-built vehicles, could have unintended consequences among Canadian workers, GM said in a Friday statement.

A boycott of GM's Mexican-built vehicles could be felt at some 60 Ontario-based auto parts companies that support Mexican production, GM said. And some of GM Unifor's members in St. Catharines and Ingersoll, Ontario, are building transmissions and body panels that going into Mexican-built vehicles sold in Canada.

“The threat of collateral damage for Ontario based auto suppliers, auto dealers and workers is concerning, especially for an Ontario economy that is now open for business, with every opportunity to now benefit from increased trade with Mexico,”GM Canada vice president David Paterson said in the statement.

Still, Dias pushed back on any negative consequences, saying the number of Canadian workers affected would be "slim to none."

GM's 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.

In the wake of this restructuring announcement late last year, both the UAW and Unifor have criticized GM for producing too many vehicles in Mexico to be sold in the U.S. and Canada. The unions — and federal lawmakers —  have been especially critical of GM's decision to build the upcoming Chevrolet Blazer at its plant in Ramos, Mexico. GM has said its U.S. plants were full when Blazer's manufacturing plans were coming together.

GM already imports from Mexico the Chevrolet Equinox, Trax and Cruze hatchback, as well as the GMC Terrain. The automaker imports one vehicle from China, the Buick Envision. Its three Buick Regal models are assembled in Germany, and its compact Buick Encore SUV is built in South Korea.

Twitter: @NoraNaughton