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Former Caterpillar workers land jobs with GM

Former Caterpillar employee Ross Seely is one of 160 workers at the shuttered London, Ont., factory who is being offered work at GM after an agreement was worked out between GM Canada and the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents workers at both GM and the Caterpillar plant, which was known as Electro-Motive Diesel Canada.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Ross Seeley, one of the longest-serving employees of a Caterpillar Inc. factory that was shut down in February, suddenly has a chance to go back to work – and at a job paying about the same wages as the job he lost.

Months of part-time jobs and uncertainty will end soon for Mr. Seeley and about 160 workers whose $35-an-hour jobs were eliminated when Caterpillar shut its diesel locomotive plant in London, Ont., after a bitter labour dispute.

The employees will be offered jobs at General Motors of Canada Ltd. plants in Ingersoll, Ont., and Oshawa, Ont., after an agreement worked out between GM Canada and the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents workers at both GM and the Caterpillar plant, which was known as Electro-Motive Diesel Canada.

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The jobs will be offered to unionized employees who were working at the plant when General Motors Co. sold it to a hedge fund in 2007, remained until the closing was announced by Caterpillar in February and did not sign a voluntary separation agreement under the GM-CAW contract.

The plant was closed – wiping out about 700 jobs, 485 of them unionized – after Caterpillar's Progress Rail division locked employees out when they rejected company demands for wage cuts up to 50 per cent, and reductions in benefits.

For Mr. Seeley, a pipefitter, the closing brought an end to 291/2 years of work at the London operation.

Mr. Seeley said he will take a job at GM's Oshawa operations, which means he will be soon be eligible for the so-called 30 and out clause, which allows employees to retire with full pension after 30 years work. GM wanted to eliminate that clause in its recent contract negotiations with the CAW, but the union retained it.

"I don't have a choice," Mr. Seeley said Wednesday from London. "I want my pension. The only way I'm going to get it is to go back to Oshawa and finish my time and get it."

The commute to Ingersoll is shorter, but the former Caterpillar employees who accept the jobs in Oshawa will get full pension credits, said sources familiar with the deal. Workers who opt for Ingersoll will get no credits in the Cami pension plan.

Mr. Seeley, who had been working part-time in a restaurant and helping watch his grandson since February, said the job means he "can stop blowing through this money" that he received in severance payments from his $35-an-hour job.

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He said several of his former colleagues in London regretted turning down other opportunities to transfer to GM's other operations before the London closing was announced.

Local CAW officials said severance payments have run out for all but 180 of the 485 unionized employees.

About 120 of the former Caterpillar employees have jobs, with 68 of them finding full-time work.

The GM jobs will pay about $34 an hour.

The Caterpillar closing was one of the most high-profile labour disputes in recent years – in part because the company was seeking major concessions even as it was reporting record sales and an annual profit of $4.9-billion (U.S.).

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