Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Unifor National President Jerry Dias make their way to a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 27, 2018. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s auto industry at risk if GM closes Oshawa plant, union president says

GM president warned he was ready to have his members take job action unless the plant stays open

The head of the union representing workers at General Motors’ car plant in Oshawa, Ont., argued Tuesday that the company’s decision could lead to the collapse of the auto-parts industry in Canada and demanded a sharp response from the Trudeau Liberals.

Unifor president Jerry Dias said General Motors “just showed the president of the United States and the prime minister of Canada their middle finger” by moving production out of Canada and the U.S. and threatening the jobs of about 2,500 workers he represents at the Oshawa plant.

“We’re playing with a corporation that plays by their own rules. So we have to have governments that are going to play by very strict rules as well,” Dias said after meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill. “I mean, if you’re going to have a company that’s going to show us their middle finger, then I think our government should show them their middle finger as well.”

Dias said GM has moved production of five models of vehicle to Mexico and the United States in the past few years, and if the Oshawa plant closes, the company will have only one left here.

He blamed low labour standards in Mexico, and called on Trudeau to work with U.S. President Donald Trump to keep manufacturing jobs from shifting south.

The revamped North American trade pact — which is set to be signed by the end of the week — should help eventually, but the parts that apply to the auto sector won’t kick in for years and by then it could be too late, Dias said.

VIDEO: GM to close Oshawa plant, four U.S. plants in massive reorganization push

In the meantime, Dias said, the Liberals should put tariffs on GM exports coming out of Mexico to dissuade the company from following through on its plans.

A General Motors Canada executive said the company isn’t planning to divest itself of its other Canadian enterprises as Dias claimed. David Paterson said the company is hiring 500 people for its technical centre in Markham, north of Toronto, to help write software for self-driving cars.

“We sell in Canada, we manufacture in Canada, and we’re actually the biggest and fastest-growing new technology automotive company in Canada,” said Paterson, the company’s vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs. “We’re growing faster than anybody in the industry in new technology, at the same time as we’re unfortunately going through, next year, this really difficult change with regard to our manufacturing base in Canada.”

Dias’s tough talk underscored the union’s fury at the company’s decision to close plants and slash salaried and executive staff as part of a global restructuring meant to save the company US$6 billion annually.

Chantal Gagnon, a spokeswoman for Trudeau, said he and Dias discussed their respective talks with GM. Trudeau also told Dias about his own call with Trump earlier Tuesday about the auto industry “and how best we can stand up for people affected on both sides of the border.”

Trudeau faced questions going into a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning about whether there was anything the federal government could do to keep the Oshawa plant open.

“Obviously our focus is on the families right now, making sure we are supporting the folks who are facing difficult times,” Trudeau said.

Time and again during his press conference, Dias rejected any notion the plant will actually close when asked about possible employment insurance help for affected workers, or whether other automakers could fill the void in Oshawa.

“We are talking about keeping the plant open, period. Our members in Oshawa want their jobs. They’re not looking to be retrained,” he said. And he suggested that despite his talk of helping workers facing layoffs, Trudeau doesn’t believe the closure of the plant is a fait accompli, either.

Dias will meet his American counterpart this week in the United States to decide what, if any, action the union will take, such as having workers walk out at other GM plants alongside the ones slated to close.

Dias warned he was ready to have his members take job action unless the plant stays open.

Asked if anyone from Trudeau’s office tried to dissuade him from doing that, Dias bluntly said the Liberals were smarter than that.

— With files from Ian Bickis

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Return to class has gone better than expectation, WCPS says

Staff with Wolf Creek Public Schools say the return to in-class teaching has gone very well

Drive-in movie draws full parking lot

Town hosted showing of Onward Sept. 25

St. Augustine School grads cross the stage at long last

‘Drive-thru’ grad held for St. Augustine School class of 2020

Mayor gives update on Water Commission

BIA letter to council and other briefs from Sept. 21 meeting

No safe mask option for bearded members, RCMP says, but force is exploring solutions

RCMP says respirator not mandatory in all front-line situations, but sometimes needed to reduce risk

Best of Ponoka Readers’ Choice Awards 2020

Here is your chance to show your support for the outstanding services… Continue reading

CP Holiday Train cancelled this year; virtual concert to be held in lieu of event

Canadian Pacific will still donate to local food banks in its network and host a virtual concert.

Survey finds doctors worry supplies of flu vaccine, PPE will lag demand

Canadian health officials have said additional flu vaccines have been ordered to meet expected demand

Ahead of likely second wave, 60% of Canadians relaxing COVID-19 measures

Proportion of Canadians following safety measures has dropped by 3 per cent in the past two weeks

Ponoka has a new seed library

Calling all gardeners: Ponoka Jubilee Library has started a community seed library… Continue reading

Canada’s population tops 38 million, even as COVID-19 pandemic slows growth

Immigration, the top population driver, decreased due to the pandemic

Lightning strike: Tampa Bay blanks Dallas 2-0 to win Stanley Cup

Hedman wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

Liberals seek to fast track new COVID-19 aid bill after CERB expires

Government secured NDP support for legislation by hiking amount of benefits by $100 to $500 per week

Most Read