Union threatens strike at GM Canada if new vehicles aren’t allocated to Oshawa plant

TORONTO — The union that represents blue-collar workers at General Motors of Canada Ltd. says there will be a strike if the company doesn’t allocate new vehicles to its plant in Oshawa, Ont.

GM Canada will announce on Friday that it plans hire up to 1,000 engineers at its Oshawa engineering centre as well as other sites in Ontario, significantly expanding its research and development capabilities in Canada.

But about 2,500 manufacturing jobs could disappear next year if GM doesn’t make a new investment in the Oshawa plant, which currently has no production mandate beyond 2017.

GM Canada president Steve Carlisle has said repeatedly that no decision on Oshawa’s future will be made until labour negotiations conclude later this year.

Now the union is taking its own hard line, saying there won’t be an agreement unless a new product is slated for the Oshawa plant.

“The reality is that unless we have a solution for Oshawa, there will not be an agreement,” said Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, the union that represents GM Canada’s workers.

When asked if there could be a strike if no new vehicles are brought to Oshawa, Dias said, “Oh, there will be.”

“There is going to be a dispute with General Motors if we do not have a solution for Oshawa and the solution includes having a product.”

Besides Oshawa, GM Canada also has an assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont. and an engine plant in St. Catharines, Ont.

Oshawa has been on life support since 2005, when GM announced that it would close the consolidated plant in 2008. The factory has been granted several reprieves since then with extensions of existing product lines, but its future has arguably never been more uncertain than it is now.

GM moved production of the Chevrolet Camaro from Oshawa to Lansing, Mich. in November, eliminating 1,000 jobs. The other vehicles produced in Oshawa — the Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Impala, Buick Regal and Cadillac XTS — are all slated to wind down or move elsewhere by 2017.

The government of Ontario has been talking to GM about Oshawa’s future “for a number of years,” but no further progress can be made until labour negotiations are complete, said Brad Duguid, minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure.

“We remain hopeful, but until we’re at a point where a future mandate is landed, we will not rest,” Duguid said in an interview.

Duguid spoke highly of Carlisle, who took over the helm of GM Canada at the end of 2014, and said the relationship between the company and the province “is better than it’s ever been.”

He added that the province has invested $1 billion in the auto sector since 2003 and is willing to spend more if it means keeping GM in Oshawa.

“We continue to aggressively pursue these investments and where necessary we’re willing to come to the table to partner,” Duguid said.

In the meantime, the minister said it’s good to see GM investing in R&D in Ontario.

Friday’s announcement is expected to be a political photo op, with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Kathleen Wynne scheduled to attend.

GM’s engineering centre in Oshawa currently employs 250 people and focuses on “alternate fuels, specialty vehicles, cold-weather development and complex project delivery,” according to the company’s website.

Job listings on LinkedIn and GM’s site show several postings in Oshawa and Markham, Ont. for engineering jobs related to autonomous and connected cars.

GM declined to comment about Friday’s announcement or the future of its Oshawa plant.

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