Canadian union airs Super Bowl ad despite GM lawsuit threats

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Canada’s automaker union took its General Motors boycott campaign to the Super Bowl, airing a commercial in Canada.

Canada’s automaker union took its General Motors boycott campaign to the masses, broadcasting an ad Sunday during the Super Bowl in Canada and ignoring lawsuit threats if it went to air.

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

On Friday, General Motors’ lawyers wrote to demand that Unifor “cease and desist from any further communication of the advertisement.”

Unifor President Jerry Dias announced the boycott on Jan. 25, which the union said it would promote with ads on TV, in print and on billboards as part of the larger #SaveOshawaGM ad campaign that launched late last year.

“The commercial points out that Canadians have been loyal to GM and now the company is leaving us out in the cold,” Dias said. “We stand by the belief that if GM wants to sell here, then it needs to build here, and we will not be intimidated from sharing that message with Canadians in this ad.”

The 30-second ad titled "GM Leaves Canadians Out in the Cold" starts with scene of someone driving on a road surrounded by woodland, asking "What makes us Canadian?"

The answer, the ad says, is "generosity, supporting friends and neighbors, helping those in need."

"So, when GM needed help, we gave them $300 from every single Canadian and after that, a nearly $11 billion bailout.

"GM continues to expand in Mexico, leaving workers out in the cold. A move that's as un-Canadian as the vehicles they now want to sell us," it continues before closing with: "GM, you may have forgotten our generosity, but we'll never forget your greed. If you want to sell here, build here."

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 officials told The Detroit News the ad is knowingly false and misleading.

"While GM respects Unifor’s rights to protest, we cannot condone purposely misleading the Canadian public," GM said in a statement Sunday. "Unifor knows that GM Canada repaid its 2009 loans in full, and that the restructured GM fulfilled all the terms of its agreements with the Canadian government many years ago. Since 2009, GM Canada has contributed over $100 billion to the Canadian economy including $8 billion invested into worker pensions."

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. GM plans to cut some 8,000 white collar jobs beginning Monday in an effort to save $2.5 billion this year.

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 United States 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's restructuring plans drew more ire from President Donald Trump.

"Very disappointed with General Motors and their CEO, Mary Barra, for closing plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland," Trump tweeted after GM announced the closures in November. "Nothing being closed in Mexico & China. The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get! We are now looking at cutting all @GM subsidies, including for electric cars."

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