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Unifor votes for strike

Autoworkers support taking action should negotiations break down

A vast majority of Unifor Local 222 members - 96.8 per cent - voted in favour of a strike mandate over the weekend. The union, currently in negotiations with General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler, will be in a legal strike position after 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 19. Local 222 president Colin James says the union is fighting for product commitments to Oshawa Assembly.

A vast majority of Unifor Local 222 members – 96.8 per cent – voted in favour of a strike mandate over the weekend. The union, currently in negotiations with General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler, will be in a legal strike position after 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 19. Local 222 president Colin James says the union is fighting for product commitments to Oshawa Assembly.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa could see striking autoworkers in the coming weeks.

This comes after members of Unifor Local 222, which represents many of the workers at Oshawa Assembly, voted in favour of strike action, if it is needed.

In total, 96.8 per cent of members of the Oshawa local voted in favour of a strike.

Votes at other union locals yielded similar results, with 97.1 per cent of General Motors workers under the Unifor umbrella voting in favour of strike action. Meanwhile, those with Ford voted 98.9 per cent in favour, and Fiat-Chrysler with 99.0 per cent.

Colin James, the president of Unifor Local 222, says that despite the vote, the prospect of going on strike is a last resort.

“Our members do not want to strike. We do not want to strike,” he tells The Oshawa Express from Toronto, where he is currently taking part in the negotiations with General Motors.

“However, if necessary, we’re willing to go on strike to achieve our demands.”

And according to James, those demands are job security and a commitment to keeping the Oshawa facility open.

“Our members want some sort of commitment that they’re going to have a job in the future, and not be working not knowing if they’re still going to be there six months or a year from now. We need to give them some sense of job security, and we’re looking for a commitment for the next 10 years, hopefully,” he says.

“The line’s drawn in the sand. Our members just gave us a strong mandate that we need to do whatever we need to do. Our members sacrificed an awful lot when General Motors was in trouble. They’re now making record profits. Quite frankly, our members feel it’s an insult that they gave up a lot to keep this company alive, and now that the company’s turned around, they’re saying to them that they don’t want to reward them for the sacrifice they made.”

That sentiment was echoed by Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president.

“With this clear mandate our members have demonstrated they are in full support of their bargaining committees, and our direction in this set of negotiations. The bargaining committee will not accept a deal without a commitment to investment in Canada’s auto sector,” Dias states in a news release.

“The push for new investments in Canada got a lot stronger today.”

Negotiations between Unifor and the three automakers will continue in the meantime. However, on Sept. 6, Dias will announce a target company, and the bargaining committee and that automaker will have until the end of the day on Sept. 19 to come to an agreement.

Once that agreement is reached, a second company will be chosen, a new deadline will be set and the process starts over again until deals are reached with all three companies.

James tells The Oshawa Express that there is no indication at this time which automaker Dias will pick, adding that traditionally, the national president does not let the union membership know of the choice ahead of time.

Unifor will be in a strike position after 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 19, when the contracts with all three automakers expire.

In an emailed statement to The Oshawa Express, Jennifer Wright, a spokesperson for General Motors of Canada, says that “GM Canada is focused on working with Unifor toward a mutually beneficial new competitive agreement.”