Business

General Motors, Unifor in contract talks as deadline nears

General Motors and its largest employee union are making progress in their discussions to hammer out a new collective agreement with 3,900 Canadian workers, but the union said one hour before a strike deadline that the deadline remains in place.

4-year deal with automaker covering 3,900 Canadian workers set to expire

Cars pass under an overpass at the General Motors Car assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont. Workers at the plant could go on strike at midnight if contract talks break down. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

General Motors' largest employee union says it is making progress in its discussions to hammer out a new collective agreement for 3,900 Canadian workers, but several issues remain on the table.

The automaker is negotiating with Unifor to work out a deal over the future of workers at the Oshawa, Ont., assembly plant and a powertrain facility in St. Catharines, Ont.

"Both sides are committed to talking," Unifor communications director Denise Hammond said at an 11 p.m. ET media briefing.

Hammond said negotiations were reaching a critical juncture. "Every minute counts," she said, adding that a few issues remain outstanding.

She reiterated that the midnight deadline to reach a deal remains in place. Earlier in the day she said "our members are prepared for the inevitable."

The four-year contracts with GM, Ford and FCA — the corporate parent of the Chrysler line — are set to expire at midnight. Unifor identified GM as the target for its talks, in the hopes that any agreement there could be used as a benchmark with other automakers. 

An issue is that the automaker has so far not committed to maintaining working lines at Canadian facilities once existing shifts are phased out. The union has said it wants to see commitments to new work before agreeing to any labour contracts.

All in all, Unifor represents roughly 23,000 Canadian auto workers.

Canada has been struggling to get new investment from automakers in its once-thriving car industry, which is losing out to the southern United States and lower-cost Mexico. Between 2001 and 2013, some 14,300 jobs were lost in vehicle manufacturing in Canada, according to the Automotive Policy Research Centre in Hamilton.

A strike at Oshawa, which assembles the Chevrolet Impala, Buick Regal and Cadillac XTS sedans as well as some other overflow work, would not cause much hardship for GM.

But if workers at its Ingersoll, Ont., CAMI plant support the strike and refuse to install engines and transmissions diverted from U.S. or Mexican plants, it would be more damaging for GM.

With files from Reuters

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