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Images of the GM car plant in Oshawa on July 20, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Images of the GM car plant in Oshawa on July 20, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

No deal on Oshawa, St. Catharines plants as GM, union talks continue Add to ...

General Motors Co. and Unifor are still negotiating less than an hour ahead of an 11:59 p.m. Monday deadline for a strike at the auto maker's plants in Canada.

Key issues are still outstanding in the talks, Unifor spokeswoman Denise Hammond said in a short news briefing.

A strike that would shut assembly plants in Oshawa, Ont., and an engine and transmission factory in St. Catharines, Ont.

Deadline looms in labour talks between Unifor and GM (BNN Video)

The talks are taking place at a downtown Toronto hotel.

“We have a long way to go, and we’re running out of time, and I’m not in a great mood at this moment, to be perfectly candid,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias late in the evening. “We’re not where we need to be, let’s put it that way.”

Mr. Dias said GM had made a proposal, but talks were not going as well as he had hoped.

Related: The union leader driving a hard bargain with auto makers

Related: Canadian auto industry at 'crossroads' ahead of labour talks

He would not discuss the substance of the conversations, but noted that GM has still not agreed to allocate new vehicles to an assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., where one assembly line is scheduled to close next year and the other assembly line has no new vehicles allocated when the current passenger cars go out of production later this decade. That is the most contentious issue in the negotiations.

The union is trying to avert the potential closing of the Oshawa assembly plant, which would end almost a century of vehicle manufacturing in the city. At stake in Oshawa are about 2,500 jobs at the plant. A closing would also lead to the elimination of thousands of jobs at suppliers nearby and throughout Ontario.

Unifor also wants GM to agree to new investments at a plant in St. Catharines, Ont., that makes engines and transmissions for GM vehicles assembled throughout North America. Another 1,400 Unifor members are employed in that factory.

Workers at the Oshawa plant put together vehicles on two assembly lines, one of which is scheduled to be closed next year, which will end production of the Chevrolet Equinox crossover, which is also made at GM plant in Ingersoll, Ont., where workers are covered by a separate collective agreement.

The Buick Regal, Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala passenger cars made on the other assembly line are scheduled to go out of production by 2019 and no replacement vehicles have been allocated.

General Motors of Canada Co. president Stephen Carlisle has said no new vehicles will be earmarked for Oshawa until after a new contract is signed. Unifor has said no deal will be reached until vehicles are allocated to Oshawa.

GM officials are not commenting during negotiations.

A halt in production of vehicles made in Oshawa would not be a serious blow to GM because the cars are not among the company’s best-selling vehicles.

But halting engine and transmission production in St. Catharines would have a domino effect at Cami and stop production of Equinox and GMC Terrain. Equinox is the second-best selling vehicle in the GM lineup in the United States, which is the biggest market for the vehicles made in Ingersoll.

Workers at Cami have vowed – if there is a strike – not to install parts from other GM or supplier plants that would replace those supplied by St. Catharines.

One problem facing Unifor in trying to convince GM to allocate new vehicles to Oshawa is that the auto maker’s assembly plants in North America are running at about 80 per cent of capacity, even though Canadian sales are at record high levels and the U.S. market is also close to a peak.

GM and other auto makers have tried to run their plants at 100 per cent capacity or higher – through the use of overtime and extra shifts – to meet the high demand.

Industry analysts and sources have said there is nothing in the GM product portfolio for the next several years that could be allocated to Oshawa.

“The unfortunate conclusion, and something we have been saying for years, is that there is no easily identified product for GM to offer to Oshawa without punishing recent plant investments in the U.S. and Mexico,” Joe McCabe, president of industry consulting firm AutoForecast Solutions LLC, said in an analysis earlier this month.

One possibility, Mr. McCabe noted, however, is the Buick Envision crossover, which is not made in North America, but is imported by GM from China.

“But if a) out-of-the-box thinking is needed, b) a non-NAFTA produced, high-value vehicle needs to be targeted, and c) the higher cost of producing in Canada offsets the lost profits and logistics cost of importing from China, then the Buick Envision starts to make sense,” he wrote, although he described the suggestion as a “what-if” scenario.

With a report from Reuters

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