Unifor, GM reach $500 million investment deal for St. Catharines and Oshawa

The Chevy Equinox, one of the GM vehicles manufactured at Canadian GM facilities./ GM

Some hope has been injected into the Canadian auto manufacturing industry as General Motors and Unifor have reached a deal, preventing a strike by Canadian auto workers.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, representing over 300,000 Canadian workers, including 23,000 auto workers, struck a deal that will see a new plant for the manufacturing of trucks and sport utility vehicles opened in Oshawa to make up for one of two lines at the current facility being shut down.

At a press conference before the vote, Unifor President Jerry Dias said that the union is “not going to ratify an agreement with General Motors under any circumstance unless there is a commitment to our facilities. If that may be considered a line in the sand, so be it.”

The deal, reached at the last minute before the September 20 deadline, will bring over $500 million in investments from GM said Dias in a blog post, “This includes products for both Oshawa and St. Catharines and an investment at the Woodstock parts centre. The investment helps workers today and well beyond 2019, when the Oshawa plant was set to close.”

Currently, General Motors employs 6,600 Unifor members in Oshawa, Ingersoll and St. Catharines. Their plants make engines and transmissions, and other vehicle components, as well as the Impala, Equinox, Buick Regal, Cadillac XTS and GMC Terrain.

The deal will ensure “a stunning reversal of what too many of us have come to expect,” said Dias. Instead of jobs being moved to plants in Mexico to save money, jobs will actually be returning to Canada.

In order to secure this deal, concessions have been made to pension plans for new hires, which will put them on a defined pension contribution plan, instead of the same benefits plan that older workers are on. Sid Ryan, a past President of the Ontario Federation Labour, said in a blog post that “Young workers will see this deal as the ‘boomer generation’ pulling up the ladder behind them, selling out the next generation without a fight,” and that the concessions will be “screwing [young workers] out of a secure future.”

Dias, however,  does not agree.

“The reality is that GM has not hired any new staff since our last collective agreement in 2012,” said Dias.  “Instead, it hired only temporary workers, who have not been eligible for any pension at all — defined contribution or otherwise.”

The new deal, he says, will see 700 workers hired on as permanent employees right away and will secure work in Canada until at least 2019.

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