Negotiators from General Motors of Canada GM-N and Unifor reached a tentative agreement on Tuesday, ending a 12-hour strike and turning the focus of the autoworkers’ union to the final round of bargaining with Stellantis NV.
The tentative agreement covers 4,300 workers at GM’s Oshawa, Ont., pickup plant, St. Catharines powertrain factory and Woodstock distribution centre. Unifor national president Lana Payne said the agreement, which must be approved by members, matches a deal the union reached in September with Ford Motor Co. of Canada F-N.
“We had to shut down two of the most critical, powerful parts of their North American chain in order to reach this deal,” Ms. Payne told reporters at a press conference.
The workers went on strike at the midnight deadline on Monday after the two sides failed to agree on several issues, including pensions and the treatment of temporary workers.
GM’s Oshawa plants make light-duty and heavy-duty Silverado pickup trucks, popular and high-profit vehicles, as well as metal stampings that are used in other plants. Engines produced at the St. Catharines facility are used in a variety of GM SUVs and pickup trucks made at other assembly plants.
Marissa West, GM Canada’s president, said in a statement work will resume on Tuesday afternoon. “This record agreement, subject to member ratification, recognizes the many contributions of our represented team members with significant increases in wages, benefits and job security while building on GM’s historic investments in Canadian manufacturing,” Ms. West said.
Maria Chinelli, who works on GM’s Oshawa assembly line making pickup trucks, was walking the picket line just after 1 p.m. when she got the news from a colleague they were back to work. “It was great,” she said. “Everybody started jumping around.”
Ms. Chinelli began at the plant in 2021 and makes $24 an hour. She and many others will see their pay increase immediately, if the deal is ratified, and reach the senior rate of $37 faster than the old contact allowed. “I’m very happy,” she said.
“The company thought that we would back down. I’m very proud of all the workers,” Ms. Chinelli said.
Unifor negotiators used the agreement reached at Ford in September as the template for GM negotiations, a tactic known as pattern bargaining. The agreement GM workers will vote on includes: wage increases for production workers of almost 20 per cent over three years, and 25 per cent for skilled tradespeople; the wage progression to the top rates is cut to four years from eight; a $10,000 signing bonus; and pension improvements.
By the end of the three-year deal, a top-rate production worker would make $44.52 an hour, not including inflation top-ups. A welder, millwright or other skilled trades worker would be paid $56 an hour.
Standing on a picket line outside the Oshawa plant on Tuesday morning, Craig Wilson, a GM worker since 2005, said a spot on the assembly line was once a middle-class job, with good wages, benefits and pensions.
Now, older workers have seen inflation and concessions erode their paycheques and pensions. Younger workers are paid much less than senior workers, a gap the Ford pattern will help bridge. “We want equal pay for equal work,” Mr. Wilson said, shortly before the strike was called off.
Jim Stanford, a former economist with the Canadian Auto Workers union, said GM likely balked at the Ford pattern because the better pensions and pay for new workers are expensive. They have more retirees and younger workers than Ford. This is because the Oshawa plant closed in 2019, and reopened in 2021 with mainly new hires.
The Ford deal was called rich and historic for its gains, after years of concessions that propped up the automakers after the 2008 financial crisis and in the pandemic. Still, the Ford agreement was ratified by just 54 per cent. The skilled trades group and older workers voted “no,” unhappy with the increases.
The narrow margin signals ratification by GM workers is not a given, despite the large number of new hires eager to progress to better pay.
Dave Cassidy, the influential union leader of 4,800 workers at Stellantis’s Windsor minivan plant and chairman of Unifor’s skilled trades group, told The Globe and Mail last week the Ford pattern is not good enough. He said he will fight for better pay and pensions that his members will back.
Unifor’s bargaining with Stellantis, whose brands include Jeep and Chrysler, kicks off as the strike by United Auto Workers in the U.S. enters its fourth week. UAW workers walked off the job on Sept. 15 at three plants, each owned by one of the Detroit Three. The strike has since expanded to other U.S. factories.
K. Venkatesh Prasad, vice-president at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said an auto plant’s shutdown has ill effects that spread throughout the supply chains, given the interconnected nature of the North American auto sector.
“One point of delay has a ripple or cascading effect,” Mr. Prasad said. “In the case of suppliers, the pains only grow because they don’t have the financial headroom. They need payment before they can build … and they have to pay other people.”