General Motors Co. must change its negotiating posture in talks with the union representing Canadian workers if it wants to reach agreement on a new contract, the president of the union warns.
Company officials have insisted that no new products will be allocated to its Oshawa, Ont., assembly plant until there is a new contract while Unifor, the union, says no contract will be signed unless there is a firm commitment to new vehicles that will replace those now made in Oshawa.
"They are going to have to make a strategic shift in order for us to move forward," Unifor president Jerry Dias said Tuesday in announcing that GM has been chosen as the company the union will bargain with to try to reach a deal. That agreement would then serve as a template for the Canadian units of the other two members of the Detroit Three auto makers.
"[GM's] public comments that there will not be an investment announcement until after we've ratified our collective agreement – that's just not going to happen," Mr. Dias told reporters at a news conference. "We are not going to ratify a contract with General Motors under any circumstances unless there is a firm commitment to our facilities."
The deadline for an agreement to replace the existing four-year deal is Sept. 19. If there is no deal, Unifor will go on strike, shutting off output of cars in Oshawa and production of transmissions and engines in St. Catharines, Ont.
The critical issue is the future of vehicle production at the Oshawa plant. One assembly line is scheduled to cease production next year, while the remaining cars assembled in Oshawa will go out of production by 2019.
Oshawa output and employment have fallen dramatically since the middle of the 2000s, when it was the largest assembly complex in North America, turning out more than 900,000 vehicles annually and employing more than 11,000 people.
Production slid to about 220,000 vehicles last year, while employment has dwindled to about 2,400 people. A new contract would cover about 4,000 workers, including about 1,500 in St. Catharines, Ont., and others at a parts depot in Woodstock, Ont.
General Motors of Canada Ltd. issued a short statement in response to being chosen as the target company saying it seeks "a mutually beneficial and competitive new agreement."
Mr. Dias said he believes GM will work with the union to resolve the situation.
But he noted that GM represents the most challenging company to be a target.
"Who do we perceive as the biggest challenge? General Motors, so if we're going to have a dust-up we might as well have it immediately," he said.
The Chevrolet Impala and Equinox vehicles assembled in Oshawa are also made at other assembly plants, while the Cadillac XTS and Buick Regal are not mainstays in the GM lineup.
Nonetheless, a shutdown of St. Catharines would choke off the only source of transmissions for Cami Automotive Inc., the GM plant in Ingersoll, Ont., that is the main assembly plant for the Equinox crossover, the second-best selling vehicle GM offers in the U.S. market. The St. Catharines plant is also the only source for some of the higher-end versions of GM's pickup full-sized sport utility vehicles that come off the assembly line in Arlington, Tex.
Mr. Dias invoked the participation by Canadian taxpayers in the bailout of GM in 2009 as a reason for the auto maker to continue investing in Canada. The federal and Ontario governments contributed $10.8-billion to the government financing that saved the auto maker.
"When General Motors needed Canada, Canada was there for General Motors," Mr. Dias said. "The Mexican government never gave General Motors one nickel. We are going to remind General Motors of that straight fact."