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The U.S. strike idled output of Chevrolet Impalas and pickup trucks in Oshawa and engine production in St. Catharines. GM sent home about 3,300 hourly employees, and suppliers laid-off 1,400 Unifor members and an untold number of non-union staff.Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

A proposed deal to end the month-long strike by more than 48,000 General Motors Co. employees in the United States could put thousands of laid-off auto workers in Southern Ontario back on the job as early as next week.

The United Auto Workers, which shut down more than 50 of GM’s U.S. plants and warehouses in a strike that began on Sept. 16, said in a statement on Wednesday that it had reached a “proposed tentative agreement” with GM after five weeks of bargaining.

The UAW’s national leaders will vote Thursday morning on whether the tentative agreement will be sent to members for a ratification vote. The leadership will also decide if the strike should continue until the contract is approved by union members, or if it ends immediately, pending ratification.

The U.S. strike idled output of Chevrolet Impalas and pickup trucks in Oshawa and engine production in St. Catharines. GM sent home about 3,300 hourly employees, and suppliers laid-off 1,400 Unifor members and an untold number of non-union staff.

David Paterson, a spokesman for GM in Canada, said the Detroit-based automaker’s Ontario plants and laid-off employees should be back on the job within days of production resuming in the United States, although it is hard to predict exactly how soon.

Chevrolet Impala output in Oshawa is expected to resume without much delay – possibly next week, he said by phone, given the number of partly complete autos on hand. Production on the St. Catharines V-8- and V-6-engine assembly line could be delayed until the U.S. factories it supplies require new power plants, he said.

Colin James, who represents Unifor union members who work at GM’s Oshawa plant and surrounding employers, said he expects the U.S. autoworkers will hold a ratification vote over the weekend.

“It has to be ratified and approved by their membership first, which I am assuming would happen over the weekend. And then it would take so many days for us to get parts up here,” Mr. James said. “We’re not really telling our members anything yet until we get to see if it’s ratified. Our members all know there’s a possibility of ratification this weekend.”

The UAW, which had been fighting for better wages, benefits and work for idled U.S. plants, provided no details of the agreement. “The No. 1 priority of the national negotiation team has been to secure a strong and fair contract that our members deserve,” said Terry Dittes, UAW vice-president.

GM said on Oct. 11 that it had offered to invest US$9-billion in U.S. plants, along with a contract that included increased compensation through wages and one-time payments, preserved health-care benefits without increasing workers’ costs, enhanced profit sharing with unlimited upside and a higher ratification bonus than the US$8,000 previously offered.

General Motors confirmed a proposed agreement was reached but offered no details.

GM’s union-represented workers must approve any labour deal by a simple majority.

If workers ratify the UAW’s tentative deal, union negotiators will then turn full attention to talks at Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, using the GM contract as a template.

This round of talks was far more contentious than in years past, with union leaders lashing out against GM and company bargainers for making details of its contract offers public during negotiations, an unprecedented move intended to appeal directly to workers. At times, the two sides pointed fingers, blaming each other for stalling progress as talks dragged over multiple weeks.

The strike at GM is the culmination of a continuing clash between two institutions vying for a place in a fast-changing industry.

The U.S. walkout – the company’s longest since 1970 – has caused a shortage of parts at dealer repair shops, dented business for auto-parts suppliers and led to temporary layoffs for roughly 10,000 non-UAW factory workers at GM in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Analysts estimate the strike has eroded GM’s bottom line by roughly US$1.5-billion and is likely to put a major dent in the company’s second-half results. GM is scheduled to report its third-quarter results Oct. 29.

GM is a major customer of Ontario’s three big parts suppliers, Magna International Inc., Martinrea International Inc. and Linamar Corp. Linamar has said the U.S. strike cost it about $1-million a day in lost profit, while the other companies have not provided details on the impact of the stoppage.

With reports from Reuters

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