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Year in Review: GM, Unifor reach deal to keep Oshawa plant open

With negotiations stretching beyond the midnight deadline for strike action, General Motors and Unifor were able to come to a deal in mid-September that would keep Oshawa Assembly open and see new product committed to the plant.

With negotiations stretching beyond the midnight deadline for strike action, General Motors and Unifor were able to come to a deal in mid-September that would keep Oshawa Assembly open and see new product committed to the plant.

Despite fears that the city would lose its longstanding automotive production plant, General Motors and Unifor, the union representing many of Oshawa Assembly’s workers, went to the 11th hour and came out with a deal to keep the plant open.

It was set to be a do or die year for automotive manufacturing in the city, with newly incoming Unifor Local 222 president Colin James telling The Oshawa Express in April, several months before negotiations would get underway, that his top priority was to keep the doors at the plant open.

“It’s going to be a critical bargaining year for us with General Motors. The most critical item is going to be us getting product in the plant because if we do not get product, it’ll be a plant closure,” James said in April.

When summer came around, Unifor took a hard position, stating in a June press conference that if General Motors would not commit to putting new product in Oshawa, there would be no new deal come negotiations.

“We’ve won multiple awards for GM, and all we want is a secure future,” Greg Moffat, Unifor’s GM master bargaining committee chairperson, said at the time.

“(GM) can tell us they’re building driverless cars in the next 10 to 15 years, but they can’t tell us if they’re building in Oshawa in the next two to three years? I find that hard to believe.”

It was also around this time that General Motors announced that it would be adding up to 1,000 new jobs for its research and development operations, with many of those jobs coming to Oshawa.

The event, attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Kathleen Wynne, left Jerry Dias, the national president for Unifor, with some optimism for Oshawa’s future.

“To me, this shows General Motors’ long-term commitment to Canada. So of course, we are going to deal with the future of Oshawa’s footprint while we are in bargaining,” the leader of the union representing many of the plant’s workers said.

“We have to find a solution for Oshawa, and that includes a long-term commitment. We are in preliminary discussions and we are going to continue to talk about it. General Motors knows what it’s going to take to get a settlement, and so do we.”

However, by the time negotiations got underway in August, Dias expressed his concern that General Motors intended to close Oshawa Assembly, citing the automaker’s previous comments that it would not commit any new product to the plant until after negotiations were successfully concluded.

“When General Motors says, ‘Listen, we’re going to get through negotiations first and then we’ll make decisions,’ that tells us that we are absolutely correct that General Motors’ intention is to close the Oshawa plant. That’s not going to happen,” Dias told The Oshawa Express, later adding it was hypocritical for GM to take this position when, during negotiations with the United Autoworkers for its operations down in the U.S., it announced it was committing $8.3 billion in new investments for American plants, resulting in 3,500 new jobs.

“For them to do that last year and then to come and tell us that, somehow, that we’re going to deal with product allocation afterwards is not going to happen.”

However, with the a strike deadline looming at the end of the day on Sept. 19, the automaker and the union were able to come to a deal that will see new product come to Oshawa Assembly, no layoffs and $554 million in new investments for GM’s Canadian operations.

“There was not one industry expert that anticipated this. The only people that anticipated this was the bargaining committee and my leadership team,” Dias told The Oshawa Express on the day the new deal was ratified by union members.

“Ultimately, we were not walking away from the table until we had a solution. For us, it was only a question of when. Frankly, we didn’t realize that we were going to get a tentative agreement without a strike until a few hours before. We were working on the product towards the end, but we all knew we were going to be successful right from the beginning because we were determined.”