GM and Unifor Reach Tentative Deal

CBJ — Shortly after midnight General Motors of Canada and Unifor, the autoworkers’ union, announced a tentative contract agreement, thus avoiding a potential strike.

“It wasn’t the threat of a deadline that forced a decision, I think it was understanding Canada is one heckuva place to do business,” said Unifor president Jerry Dias. “We build the most quality vehicles in the world and we run very profitable facilities as well.

Dias, who has proven to be a tough but fair negotiator throughout his career, called this round of talks very difficult negotiations. The union’s executive committee is unanimously recommending the deal. Ratification votes are set for Sunday in Ontario at the Oshawa and St. Catharines plants as well as the parts distribution centre in Woodstock, Ont.

A major concession in the talks was an agreement by the union to convert all new employees to a defined contribution pension plan. That’s different from the defined benefit ones that legacy employees all have. Such a change to the pension plan was also the sticking point in Canada Post’s negotiations with their largest union.

In the previous contract, Unifor made a concession to move to a hybrid contribution-benefit system, but a year later struck a deal for GM workers in Ingersoll, Ont., — who operate under a separate bargaining schedule — which entailed a defined contribution plan.

A key sticking point in the negotiations was the union’s request to secure more work for the 4,000 GM employees it represents in Ontario.

Dias said assurances for the job security of employees in Oshawa and St. Catharines were achieved through “hundreds of millions of dollars of investment for our Canadian facilities.”

Dias said a result of the investment, Oshawa would be the only GM plant in North America to have the ability to build both cars and trucks.

The consolidated line in Oshawa will continue its existing commitment into 2017 for the Chevy Equinox SUV, but no more. The flex line — which handles the Buick Regal, Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac XTS but had no products scheduled past 2019 — has now received a yet-to-be-named commitment from GM beyond that date.

“Are we going to end up with a different product in Oshawa? The answer is yes,” said Dias, adding that as a result the plant would be “hiring in the long term and the short term.”

For St. Catharines, he hailed a rare migration of product from Mexico to Canada. Additional volume related to the company’s engine program will head to the southern Ontario city’s shop.

“Heaven only knows we’ve seen enough of it go the other way around,” said Dias.

GM in a statement early Tuesday said the deal would “enable significant new product, technology and process investments” at the two Ontario plants, adding “we will be working with government on potential support.”

The four-year contracts with GM, Ford and FCA — the corporate parent of the Chrysler line — were 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.

Dias admitted a “negative change” to get the current deal struck was that new GM hires would be under a defined contribution plan, which would have widespread ramifications given the pattern bargaining within the auto industry.

The Unifor president said while the broad framework was achieved, the two sides would be returning to the table to iron out specifics.

Dias praised GM for its “willingness to find a solution.”