By Michael Larkin,
Money and Investing Writer
Following weeks of negotiations and a final meeting between Unifor, the largest union in Canada, and General Motors (NYSE: GM) of Canada, over 2700 GM employees are on strike after not reaching an agreement for a new contract.
The Ingersoll assembly plant, located in Ontario, recently focused its production in the popular Chevrolet Equinox. With year-over-year sales in America being up 17 percent and 40 percent in Canada, there is now a speedbump in production due to the protests.
While GM focuses more on the Equinox, it had to shift production of its other popular model, the GMC Terrain, to a plant in Mexico, which led to 600 layoffs for the Ingersoll plant.
With risk of layoffs becoming more apparent, Unifor wanted to make sure that its workers have a secured position with GM. However, negotiations proved to be ineffective. A Unifor spokesperson states that GM needs to express “a commitment to address shop floor issues, improved wages and benefits and a new investment at our facility.”
The Ingersoll workers currently represent around a third of GM’s total of over 8000 employees in Canada. While long-term consequences are uncertain, the immediate impact of the strike shouldn’t prove to be detrimental. If both Unifor and GM fail to make an agreement, however, production could halt and GM could fail to capitalize on the popularity of the Equinox, having already spent $660 million to ensure the plant maximizes efficiency.
American GM dealers believe the amount of Equinox models for sale will last for 53 days, compared to other models which should last around 82 days of sales. This event marks the first strike in over 21 years for the Canadian auto industry. With such a rare occurrence in the industry, the Ingersoll plant believes they have good reason to stick up for their beliefs.
Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, states, “These workers are standing up for good jobs. Not just for themselves, but for the entire community.” With a community at stake, Ingersoll will search for the best outcome for its workers.
The plant was originally a joint venture between GM and Suzuki (TYO: 7269). Now that GM is the sole owner, union relations have been shaky ever since. High tension and a reputation for militant operations has caused Unifor to always be aware of GM, but only due to their expired contract is there any retaliation.
Even before the outcry, Unifor took measures back in July to try to protect its workers even further. Unifor took it as far as holding a town-hall meeting to talk about the North American Free Trade Agreement and how it needs to be changed in order to protect Canadian workers. Under Nafta, production is moving away from Canada and moving into the United States, Mexico, and even in China.
With new regulations, Unifor believes that this could be a beneficial first step to secure Canadian jobs.
“The whole argument that opening up markets is somehow going to benefit working-class people – Nafta has shown this isn’t true,” as stated by Mr. Dias. While more GM jobs seem to open up across the globe, Unifor continues to strive to bring justice for its workers.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 26th print edition.
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