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Unifor wants deals for feeder plant employees

Union sets a deadline of July 24 for settlements

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Although Unifor has reached a settlement with General Motors on behalf of workers at the Oshawa assembly plant, there is another battle brewing.

The union is ramping up its pressure on affiliated auto parts companies to reach restructured agreements with employees.

It has set a July 24 deadline for deals to be reached.

According to Unifor, the GM plant shutdown in Oshawa will lead to 1,700 job losses at local supplier plants.

“As Unifor warned, thousands of additional independent parts and suppliers (IPS) workers are now facing job loss as a direct result of the assembly line closure at GM Oshawa,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “The workers deserve respect and support as operations are restructured or wound down. Unifor is determined to secure agreements that address important issues such as transition to retirement opportunities, financial support, and adjustment support.”

Some of these companies include Lear Whitby, Inteva, CEVA Logistics, and Robinson Solutions.

Ken Pearn, a 33 year veteran of Lear Whitby, says when GM reached its settlement with the workers, many people erroneously assumed the suppliers were getting the same.

“The public thought [the issue was over], and they think I get the GM pension, and I don’t get even close,” Pearn told The Oshawa Express.

However, Pearn said the GM deal gave workers at his plant, and others who will possibly lose their jobs, a glimmer of hope.

But as time went on, the settlements for suppliers didn’t come, and Pearn said he decided to take action.

He successfully ran to become an elected delegate representing feeder plants such as Lear.

Pearn began taking his concerns to the media in June, and he says eventually Unifor came on board.

“I’m not saying I did it, but putting some pressure on them sure has helped,” Pearn said.

The Lear plant, which employs 350 people, is currently on a holiday shutdown. It is set to have a shutdown process that will mirror GM’s.

He said the union and company are currently battling through the Ontario Labour Board as the collective agreement between the parties expired on July 1.

The Lear pension plan begins at 60, but Pearn says there are nearly 200 workers in their mid-50s, with 30 years of service with the company, that will be out of work.

He noted when Lear shutdown its plant in Kitchener, workers with 28 years of service received “a full pension, full benefits, and $100,000 in severance.”

At this point, Pearn said he isn’t even interested in his severance, which he said Lear can use to help younger workers, but he wants his pension and benefits.

He explains Lear’s pension and benefits have always been 85 per cent of those received by GM employees.

“I want 85 per cent of the GM deal, absolutely, that’s what’s fair,” he said.

For Pearn, Lear is in a position to offer employees what he considers a fair deal.

He says the company was 147th on the Fortune 500 list and made $21 billion in sales in 2018.

“Basically, we’re asking Mom and Dad for $20 to get this done,” he remarked.

Although Lear employees have continued to forge on, Pearn refers to the work environment as “poison.”

“The attitude in there is sorry. People are desperate, and they don’t know what’s going to happen with their lives,” he says. “It’s just sickening. We aren’t people, my employee number is #268, and that’s it.”

He says workers desperately need elected officials to stand with them.

He notes he heard from the federal Conservative and NDP parties, but neither is willing to go public.

“I tell you, my vote is up for bid, the first politician that comes out publicly and supports us, their picture could be on my front lawn come October,” he says.

With the Unifor-imposed deadline about three weeks away, Pearn said there is still a lot to be done.

“We got some fight left,” he says.