Unifor workers at General Motors of Canada GM-N are on strike Tuesday after contract talks failed to yield a tentative agreement.
The strike includes 4,300 workers at GM’s Oshawa pick-up plant, St. Catharines powertrain factory and Woodstock distribution centre. Workers at the CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll are under a separate contract and not on strike.
In a press conference early Tuesday morning, Lana Payne, Unifor national president, said the union called the strike at the Monday midnight deadline after GM, in bargaining sessions over the Thanksgiving weekend, rejected conditions reached in an earlier deal with Ford Motor Co. of Canada. F-N
GM produces light-duty and heavy-duty Silverado pickup trucks at the Oshawa plant, 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 in other assembly plants, raising the prospect of impacting their output should the strike last for long.
“We made some progress throughout the day, but sadly not enough to get a tentative agreement,” Ms. Payne said. Negotiations will continue, she said.
Ms. Payne said the two sides failed to agree on pensions, retiree supports and the path for temporary workers to become full time. “Unifor retirees built the automotive industry in Canada and Unifor will not agree to pay our retired members at GM less than retirees at Ford of Canada,” she said.
Unifor negotiators used the agreement reached at Ford in September as the template for GM negotiations, a tactic known as pattern bargaining. The Ford agreement includes wage increases of 15 per cent over three years, pension improvements, and cuts to four from eight the years it takes new hires - who make $24 an hour - to reach the regular rate of $37.
The deal was called rich and historic for its gains, after years of concessions that propped up the automakers after the financial crisis and 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.
Unifor and other unions try to bargain similar deals with employers in the same industries to ensure companies compete against each other with products and not wage costs.
Ms. Payne said ahead of the GM talks she knew the union was in for a fight to replicate the Ford deal. Much of GM’s Oshawa workforce are recent hires making less than the permanent, standard pay rate. GM also has a large number of retirees.
“We knew it was going to be an uphill battle for all kinds of reasons,” she said. “No company likes to say likes to take the terms and conditions that you’ve negotiated with another company and apply it to their own operations. We had hoped to be able to get there but we didn’t. So we’re showing them that we mean business here.”
Jennifer Wright, a GM spokeswoman, confirmed talks resumed on Tuesday.
“We are currently assessing what impact, if any, the Unifor work stoppage will have on U.S. manufacturing operations,” Ms. Wright said.
Striking GM workers held picket signs outside the sprawling Oshawa plant and waved at a stream of vehicles honking in support on Tuesday morning.
A man with a chainsaw cut up pile of wood pallets for a burn barrel in the chill autumn air while Metallica blasted from a Bluetooth speaker.
The mood of strikers is upbeat and resolute, said Brian Cooper, a GM worker for two years.
“Everybody would prefer to be doing our jobs, getting our paycheques, but the employer forced this to happen,” Mr. Cooper said.
Strikers, many of whom have yet to make the senior pay rate, are keen for the faster path that Ford worker received. Senior workers shared that sentiment.
Standing on a picket line outside GM’s Oshawa plant on Tuesday morning, Theresa Martin said she wants all employees to make the good wages paid to senior workers like her.
“We want GM to follow the pattern,” said Ms. Martin, a GM employee for 19 years.
The Unifor strike means GM is facing work stoppages in Canada and the United States. This is the first strike at GM in Canada since 1996.
United Auto Workers walked off the job on Sept. 15 at three U.S. plants, each owned by one of the Detroit Three. The strike has since expanded to other factories. On Friday, UAW leader Shawn Fain said there were advances at the bargaining table with GM, as the employer offered to place its U.S. electric battery plants under UAW’s contract.
“We’ve been told for this that this was impossible. We’ve been told the [electric vehicle] future was a race to the bottom,” Mr. Fain said in a webcast. “And now we’ve called their bluff. What this will mean to our membership cannot be understated.”
Mr. Fain said talks with the Detroit 3 are progressing and the strikes will not expand, for now.
On Monday, meanwhile, 4,000 UAW workers in the U.S. went on strike at Mack Trucks after rejecting a tentative agreement the union reached with the company.