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Unifor selects General Motors as its bargaining target

General Motors will be the target company in upcoming negotiations for a new collective agreement, Unifor has announced, with the union saying investment in Canada will be the top priority.

'If we are going to have a dust-up, we might as well have it immediately,' union president says

Unifor national president Jerry Dias on naming GM as target for collective bargaining 4:35

General Motors will be the target company in upcoming negotiations for a new collective agreement, Unifor has announced, with the union saying investment in Canada will be the top priority.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias said Tuesday that the union won't sign a deal without a firm commitment from GM to plants in Oshawa, Ont., and St. Catharines, Ont. 

"That may be considered a line in the sand — so be it," Dias told reporters gathered at a downtown hotel in Toronto.

Talks so far have been contentious, especially with GM. The company wants a contract that's more cost-competitive with the United Auto Workers union in the U.S.

GM has indicated that it won't talk about new investments in Canada or allocating new products to Oshawa until a collective agreement is ratified, but the union said the company's stance must change.

"If we are going to have a dust-up, we might as well have it immediately," Dias said.

He said he doesn't expect the "economic package," such as wages and benefits, will hold up agreement on a new collective agreement, leaving investment as the big hurdle.

CAMI agreement separate

The future of the GM plant in Oshawa has been uncertain since the company shifted production of the Camaro to a plant in Michigan. The plant, which employs 2,400 hourly workers, has no guaranteed product after 2019. Its consolidated line builds the Chevrolet Equinox and is slated to close next year. The facility's flex line produces the Chevrolet Impala, Cadillac XTS and Buick Regal, which have been slow sellers.

GM employs 6,600 Unifor members in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Ingersoll, Ont. That figure includes about 2,600 people working at the CAMI plant in Ingersoll who are covered under a separate collective agreement

GM's plant in St. Catharines builds engines and transmissions, and Dias said new investment is needed there too.

The union, which says it represents more than 23,000 Canadians workers at the Big Three Detroit automakers, typically names a target company to set the pattern for bargaining with the rest of the industry. 

Unifor says it has received a strong strike mandate from its members as it prepares to negotiate contracts.

The union has threatened job action if it doesn't get an agreement before midnight on Sept. 19.

Dennis DesRosiers, the president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, said Dias could have selected Ford, which the union gets along with quite well, but ultimately "he has to face the music, and General Motors is going to be war." 

"Probably a smart move on his part, in that the markets are holding up really well," DesRosiers told CBC News. "General Motors is obviously not wanting to take a strike given how healthy the markets are."

A work stoppage at GM plants in Canada would halt operations here and at some plants in the United States, because engines produced here go south, DesRosiers said. "So he's in a fairly powerful position with General Motors."

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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