Canada’s autoworker union, Unifor, wants consumers to boycott buying any General Motors vehicles built in Mexico.
“If it starts with 3, it’s not for me,” said Unifor President Jerry Dias during a news conference Friday morning as his union continued its fight against GM’s decision to close an Ontario assembly plant.
He said GM cars with a vehicle identification number starting with “3” means it was built in Mexico.
Dias is also scheduled to meet with the UAW the first week in February to discuss how the U.S. union might team up with Unifor to challenge GM’s decision to idle five factories in North America this year.
GM ships more than 600,000 vehicles a year, valued at $20 billion, to Canada from the United States, said Dias. But he did not have a breakdown of how many are built in Mexico.
In a statement, GM said, if successful, Unifor’s call for a boycott of GM cars made in Mexico could create “collateral damage across the wider Ontario economy, which has more than 60 Ontario-based auto parts companies supporting Mexico production.”
GM said it is just one of 10 carmakers that import vehicles from Mexico and is among five that also build in Canada.
Unifor members make North American GM transmissions in St. Catharines and stamp body panels in Ingersoll that go into Mexican made vehicles sold in Canada, GM said.
“The threat of collateral damage for Ontario-based auto suppliers, auto dealers and workers is concerning, especially for an Ontario economy that is now open for business, with every opportunity to now benefit from increased trade with Mexico,” said GM Canada Vice President David Paterson.
Dias disputed that.
“Very few parts, if any, go from Canada to Mexico. As for the chance of Canadian workers being negatively impacted, that would be slim to none,” he said.
“GM sales in Canada were down 30 percent in December compared to December of the previous year,” Dias said. “People are already watching this. Sooner or later we have to have this fight. It might as well be now.”
In November, GM said it would idle the following plants: two U.S. transmission plants, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, Lordstown Assembly in Ohio and Oshawa Assembly near Toronto. All will be idled and the cars built at them will be discontinued or moved to another plant.
Unifor has been aggressively fighting GM’s decision to shutter Oshawa, but the company has rejected the union’s ideas to keep it running. Earlier this week, hundreds of Unifor members protested in front of GM Canada’s headquarters. Dias has met with Canada’s prime minister, who he said is “disgusted” with GM’s decision and is working on getting a meeting with GM CEO Mary Barra.
More: Canadian union slams GM in ads over Oshawa plant closing
Asked whether a strike is the next step for Unifor to get GM’s attention, Dias said: “We are not ruling out anything. We have plans as to how we’re moving forward.”
There are rules around how Unifor can strike, but Dias said, “If GM has no intention of honoring the collective bargaining agreement, the million-dollar question is, ‘Why should I?’”
Unifor and GM have a collective bargaining agreement that binds GM to keep the plant open until September 2020, Dias asserts. A GM spokesman has said the collective bargaining agreement gives GM the option to end its production at Oshawa if there is a significant disruption to the car market. GM points to the decline in sedan sales and Oshawa running at just 30 percent capacity as evidence that there is no viable business case for Oshawa to remain operational.
Dias said it may have to be resolved in court. Either way, Dias wants GM to come to the bargaining table and be open to reversing its decision. Dias said that in the United States, GM has indicated it would address the closure of the four plants there with the UAW when contract negotiations start in September. He wants Canada to be given the same chance.
GM’s “ultimate goal,” said Dias, is to remove itself completely from Canada once it idles the Oshawa plant. At that point, the only GM vehicle assembled in Canada will be the Chevrolet Equinox SUV, which is also built in Mexico, where workers are paid about $2 an hour, he said.
GM said it is committed to Canada, having reinvested more than $100 billion there through manufacturing, purchased goods and services, and with more than $8 billion invested into worker pensions since 2009. That investment has created Canada’s largest automotive software engineering workforce that continues to add jobs in “next-generation automotive engineering, software and testing work in Oshawa, Markham, Kapuskasing and soon in Toronto,” said GM’s Paterson.
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