Canadian Manufacturing

Unifor president Diaz says GM pensions trade-off was ‘not a difficult decision’

Jerry Diaz said the concessions were easily worth it in order for Unifor to secure investments in GM's Ontario facilities in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Woodstock



TORONTO—Securing hundreds of millions of dollars of investment from General Motors in its Canadian operations was worth the trade-off that Unifor made on pensions for new hires, union president Jerry Dias said Tuesday.

After a long day of bargaining, the union—which represents about 3,900 workers at GM plants in Ontario—reached a tentative agreement overnight with the automaker, averting a possible strike.

If ratified, the four-year deal, which includes wage increases, signing bonuses and lump sum payments, will see new hires start with a defined contribution pension plan rather than the hybrid plan for current employees.

Dias says making the concession was “not a difficult decision” in order to secure investments in GM’s facilities in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Woodstock.

He added that 700 temporary employees will be made permanent under the deal.

There had been fears that the Oshawa facility would shut down in 2019 but Dias says the contract ensures that won’t happen.

The settlement, which will go to the union members for a ratification vote on Monday, would also see some production moving from Mexico to GM’s engine plant in St. Catharines _ reversing an exodus of jobs to that country.

“Frankly, we created history,” Dias said in an interview Tuesday.

“This is the first time that we are seeing not only a solidifying of the footprint, but real opportunities for growth. So I’m thrilled.”

Dias said the settlement bodes well for upcoming talks with Fiat Chrysler and Ford, though he would not say which company will be targeted next in the negotiations.

“If we can get an agreement with General Motors without a dispute I’m very, very comfortable that we can find a settlement with the other two,” Dias said.

Dimitry Anastakis, an auto industry expert and a professor at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., says it appears that support from the provincial or federal governments may have helped ink the deal.

When asked about the negotiations, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the ministry of economic development is currently in talks with both General Motors and the auto workers’ union.

“We’re very much involved and I’m thrilled that there’s a tentative agreement,” Wynne said.

“I look forward to the vote on Sunday and I’m very, very pleased that we see a bright future for the auto industry in Oshawa and across the province.”

Brad Duguid, the minister of economic development and growth, said more details about the provincial government’s role in supporting the sector will be disclosed at the “appropriate time.”

“We fully expect to be a partner in this,” Duguid said.

“I expect that the province will be very keen to land this investment and make sure that GM Oshawa has a long, healthy and prosperous future.”

Anastakis said he expects that the other two members of the so-called Detroit Three will follow the pattern set by the deal with GM, as per the pattern bargaining process. There are only a handful of isolated incidents in the past where that didn’t happen, Anastakis said.

“It’s not a crazily onerous agreement in terms of the financials,” he added.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the other companies follow suit pretty quickly.”

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