Canadian Manufacturing

GM Canada boss, Unifor volley over future of Oshawa, Ont., plant

Unifor calling for decision about future of facility before two sides negotiate new collective deal in 2016

OSHAWA, Ont.—As General Motors Co. (GM) executives continue to evaluate the future of its Canadian subsidiary’s Oshawa, Ont., assembly operations, their union counterparts are calling for a decision sooner rather than later.

Unifor, in response to statement from newly appointed General Motors of Canada Ltd. (GM Canada) president and managing director Stephen Carlisle, is calling for the automaker to come to a decision about the Oshawa plant before 2016—the year the two sides’ current collective agreement is set to expire.

“We’re going to continue to push GM to make a decision, taking into account that the Oshawa operations are highly competitive,” Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in a statement.

“We’re actively engaged in discussions with GM as are the provincial and federal governments to find a solution. We believe that we will be able to find a solution and that a decision on a new product for Oshawa should and can be made now.”

In his statement, Carlisle, who was announced as head of GM Canada in November, replacing Kevin Williams at the helm, said his team will studies costs over the course of 2015 and 2016 to determine how much it can invest.

“We start by examining the numbers and understanding the variables,” Carlisle said. “We must pay attention to how dramatically economic factors are fluctuating these days—some of which we can control or predict more than others.”

Carlisle went on to describe the company’s “good relationship” with Unifor, and said GM Canada and the union must complete contract negotiations “before we can make any final decisions” on the Oshawa plant’s future.

“In short, we want our community to understand the timing for this next round of decisions,” he said. “We are going to be careful and are not expecting to be deciding on any major new mandates or investments in Oshawa until well into 2016.”

The future of the Oshawa plant, which has been producing cars for nearly 100 years, has been the source of much speculation for more than two years after GM announced it would move production of the next generation Chevrolet Camaro to a plant in Michigan.

The head of the Canadian Auto Workers union, which since merged with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada to form Unifor, called the decision to move Camaro production to Lansing, Mich., a betrayal to Canada.

Ken Lewenza at the time said the loss represents between 25 and 30 per cent of GM’s total annual production in Canada.

The union, which represents about 3,700 workers at the plant, also said at the time that the move could result in the loss of 1,000 jobs.

Unifor local president Ron Svajlenko said in the union’s statement that impending retirements and a weak loonie will help GM find the efficiencies it needs to keep the plant running.

“The decline in the Canadian dollar, combined with the fact that roughly two thirds of our members in Oshawa will soon be eligible to retire will reduce costs for GM in the coming years,” he said.

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