Canadian union, GM reach tentative deal, avoid strike

Canadian union, GM reach tentative deal, avoid strike

Unifor President Jerry Dias seated with bargaining team.

General Motors Co. and the Unifor Canadian auto workers union late Monday avoided a strike by reaching a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract that includes wage increases and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment that will keep GM’s Oshawa plant open.

The agreement, reached minutes before an 11:59 p.m. deadline, covers roughly 3,860 GM hourly workers from Oshawa, St. Catharines and a parts distribution center in Woodstock. The last-minute deal was a victory for the union, which made securing new investment its key priority. It also avoids a potentially costly strike for GM that could have impacted plants in both Canada and the U.S.

“Did we achieve our objective? I would suggest the answer is clearly yes,” Dias told reporters.

“We have found a solution for your facilities,” Dias said to the union’s GM workers. “To say this is a difficult set of negotiations is an incredible understatement.”

GM, in a statement, said the tentative deal will “enable significant new product, technology and process investments at GM’s Oshawa, St. Catharines and Woodstock facilities, placing those operations at the forefront of advanced manufacturing flexibility, innovation and environmental sustainability.”

GM said it will work with the Canadian government on potential support.

The biggest investment — worth hundreds of millions of dollars — comes at Oshawa Assembly, a plant with 2,400 workers that 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 in the plant which has seen sharp reductions in employment over the past few decades and faced uncertainty of product allocation past the 2019 model year.

The deal will allow the plant to build both cars and trucks, although Dias declined to reveal which specific models it would receive.

The flex line, which runs two shifts and employs about 1,650 workers who build the Buick Regal, Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala, will continue and will receive new product. 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.

There will be no job losses, and the tentative deal will include more jobs in Oshawa than the previous contract. Dias said Oshawa will be hiring in the long term and the near term.

“The fear of a closure is now over,” Dias said.

Unifor Local 222 President Colin James said early Tuesday that members are relieved by the tentative deal and that it provides “some security for the future.” Many gathered late Monday at the union hall in Oshawa awaiting instructions if they would pick up a picket sign or if they would show up for work as usual.

Analysts as early as Sunday said they didn’t see what new vehicles GM would put in Oshawa.

The St. Catharines investment will involve additional engine volume coming from Mexico to Canada.

“It’s a straight switch from what’s been happening historically,” Dias said. “Today’s announcement really turns the tide of what has transpired in the auto industry in this country for over a decade.”

The agreement includes wage increases for current and new employees and a signing bonus. New members will get more money up front, Dias said. Unifor’s roughly 700 GM temporary employees in all facilities will be converted to full-time.

“The agreement is fair based on the economic times,” he said.

Dias did not answer whether buyouts or retirement packages are part of the deal.

The only negative part of the deal for workers, Dias said, is that new hires will now be on a defined contribution pension plan. Legacy members of the union have a defined benefit pension plan. In 2012, the union put a deal in place where new hires would have a hybrid plan.

Talks began on a sour note as both sides butted heads over investment: Unifor demanded it while GM said it would not make any promises until after ratification. Dias said they were able to come to an agreement because “there was clearly a willingness from GM to find a solution.”

A ratification vote takes place Sunday for workers all three plants. A decision on which automaker Unifor bargains with next – Ford Motor Co. or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – will happen in the next 24 hours.

“This agreement we tried to make sure will work well at all three (automakers),” Dias said.

Following the announcement, Dias clapped and raised both arms in the air to celebrate.

When a reporter followed up to confirm some of the investment and wage increase details, he jokingly replied:

“Not bad, eh?”

Melissa Burden contributed.

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