GM won't budge on closing Oshawa, so workers protest and walk off the job

Says Unifor boss after meeting company leaders: 'I'm furious right now'

DETROIT — The head of Canada's auto union blasted General Motors for pushing ahead with plans to phase out work at its Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant despite calls by workers and politicians in Canada to find a new vehicle to build there.

Unifor, the union that represents workers at the plant, has vowed to block its closure.

Unifor members began a sit-down protest Wednesday morning and stopped production, a union spokeswoman said. Workers also staged a protest on the Tuesday afternoon shift, then walked off the job, after they got word that GM had not accepted the union's proposals to save the factory during a meeting with labor leaders.

"They're moving ahead with their plan. We're going to continue to have discussions with them about solutions," Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, the union that represents workers at the plant, said after meeting with GM officials at the No. 1 U.S. automaker's Detroit headquarters.

"I'm furious right now," Dias added. "The reality is that GM can reverse its decision. The question is do they have the political will to do so."

As for the protests, Diaz was quoted in Automotive News:

"Our members were watching the press conference, and when they listened to what we had to say, they didn't go to work," he said. "They've had enough. That was our workers saying to GM, 'What's wrong with you?'"

As for whether protests would continue, Diaz said, "We're just playing it by ear. Our members are going to make up their own mind, and we're going to support whatever actions they want to take. It's not more complicated than that."

GM said in a letter to Dias that it had already considered several proposals including those the union raised at the meeting.

"Unfortunately, all Unifor's proposals would involve substantial incremental costs and a further deterioration of GM's competitive position," GM said, adding that "it cannot pursue them" because of the weakening market in North America.

GM confirmed it has no plans to build vehicles in the Oshawa plant after the end of 2019, which is part of a broad restructuring announced in November. GM also has not allocated new products for four U.S. plants, raising the possibility of their closure and the elimination of a total of about 15,000 jobs in North America.

Dias previously promised "one hell of a fight" to prevent the Oshawa plant's closure. Going into the Tuesday meeting, he has voiced optimism a solution could be found.

Dias also previously said one option would be to extend operations for nine months, when regular contract talks are scheduled to begin, allowing more time for a long-term solution.

David Paterson, vice-president of corporate affairs at GM Canada, told The Canadian Press the union should instead work with the company on timing the transition for affected workers. GM says it has identified job opportunities and is willing to pay for retraining.

The union has said the decision is contrary to commitments made by GM in contract negotiations with Unifor in 2016. Unifor said the deal stipulates there will be no plant closures before Sept. 21, 2020.

After he returned from the meeting with GM, Dias told reporters in a press conference in Windsor, Ontario, that the union was looking at its legal options regarding whether the Detroit company violated the labor contract.

GM officials have said the fate of the U.S. plants is subject to talks with the United Auto Workers union, which represents the U.S. workers at those plants. GM Chief Executive Mary Barra promised in early December to keep an "open mind" about another affected plant, Ohio's Lordstown Assembly.

Hundreds of workers walked off the job at the Oshawa plant in protest on the day GM announced its plans.

GM has said the Oshawa closure affects 2,973 assembly-line jobs. The company employs 8,150 in Canada.

Oshawa builds the Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac XTS sedans. That line is down to one shift. It also operates two shifts that complete final assembly on the outgoing generation of Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.

Reporting by Ben Klayman

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