TORONTO – General Motors has restarted production at its assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont., even as a strike by U.S. autoworkers enters a fourth week.
The company shut down the plant last week according to a schedule that was set well before the start of the strike by about 49,000 members of the United Auto Workers.
Unifor president Jerry Dias had expected the Ingersoll plant to have been forced to close by now due to a lack of parts, since the U.S. strike has shut down more than 30 facilities.
“GM was very prepared,” Dias said. He now believes the company can run the plant through to the end of October.
By keeping Ingersoll operational, with about 2,400 hourly staff, GM can also keep about a third of staff at its St. Catharines, Ont., plant going as it supplies engines for the Chevrolet Equinox produced in Ingersoll.
The U.S. strike, however, has forced the closure of GM’s Oshawa Assembly Plant for about 2,000 temporary layoffs, and another 730 temporary job cuts at the St. Catharines plant. The plant shutdowns have also led to over a thousand temporary Unifor layoffs at parts suppliers dependent on the plants.
Workers are feeling the pinch but are supportive of the U.S. strike, Dias said.
“There’s no question that some of our members, especially in the parts space, are feeling pain, but they’re also in full solidarity with the UAW because we’re living it, we’re living with GM’s decisions, so people are incredibly sympathetic.”
Negotiations in the U.S. have stumbled over product commitments for U.S. factories among other issues, something Canadian workers are also deeply concerned about, Dias said.
“Ultimately GM’s going to have to step out of its comfort zone, because people are frankly sick and tired of watching our plants being shuttered and our jobs moving to Mexico.”
GM is the leader in Mexican-produced vehicles at just over 833,000 last year, according to LMC and the Center for Automotive Research, a think-tank based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
UAW vice-president Terry Dittes said in a letter to members Sunday that the union sent a proposal to the company, and that GM responded with an offer that had been rejected with few changes and no commitments on job security.
“These negotiations have taken a turn for the worse,” Dittes wrote.
In a statement, GM said it continues to negotiate in good faith “with very good proposals that benefit employees today and builds a stronger future for all of us.”
While the union made strong statements over the weekend, it doesn’t necessarily mean the two sides are far apart, said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.
“Experience says to me that sometimes when two parties are close, they make loud statements that sound like they aren’t.”
Volpe said it’s hard to estimate the total number of jobs affected in Canada, since many parts suppliers are private and don’t disclose job cuts for competitive reasons.
Guelph, Ont.-based parts producer Linamar Corp. said last week that the strike was costing it about $1 million a day. Magna International Inc. and Martinrea International Inc. did not respond to requests for comment. Industry analysts say GM itself is losing more than US$80 million a day as the strike continues.
Canadian GM dealerships are also starting to report some delays in parts deliveries.
GM spokeswoman Jennifer Wright said Canadian hubs are still operational and fulfilling most orders, but that parts shipments from the U.S. have been impacted. She said the company and dealers are “working to minimize the impact to customers.”
Striking workers have said they want a bigger share of the more than US$30 billion in profits that GM has made during the past five years. But the company wants to cut its labour costs so they are closer to those at U.S. factories run by foreign automakers, mainly in the U.S. South.