Canadian autoworkers go on strike at GM plants

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New York

General Motors’ labor problems have spread north of the US-Canadian border, as more than 4,000 autoworkers are now on strike there.

The Unifor union and GM failed to agree to a deal similar to the one the union previously reached with Ford.

“The company continues to fall short on our pension demands, income supports for retired workers, and meaningful steps to transition temporary workers into permanent, full-time jobs,” Unifor said in a statement.

“GM Canada presented Unifor with a record economic offer that recognizes the many contributions of our represented team members — past, present, and future,” said a statement from Marissa West, president and managing director of GM Canada. “However, there are some final outstanding items to be resolved at the bargaining table. We are committed to quickly reaching a new collective agreement so that we can all get back to work while positioning both our people and GM Canada for continued success in the future.”

The Canadian plants on strike include an assembly factory in Oshawa, Ontario, one of the factories that builds the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, as well as an engine and transmission plant in St. Catharines, Ontario. Also on strike is a parts distribution center in Woodstock, Ontario. Unifor members at GM’s CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, which makes electric delivery vans, are covered by a separate collective agreement and will remain on the job.

But the plants that are on strike could affect GM’s US operations, because its engines and transmissions are used in vehicles built there.

Among the plants that get engines or transmissions from the St. Catharines plant are factories in Arlington, Texas; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Bowling Green, Kentucky; as well as Lansing Grand River in Michigan and San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Those plants build many of the company’s best-selling and most profitable vehicles, including the Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups; plus full-size SUVs such as the Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade, as well as the Chevy Equinox and Traverse SUVs.

With the Silverado as GM’s top-selling vehicle, cutting off even some of its production, either due to the assembly line in Canada shutting down or the lack of V-8 engines built in St. Catharines that are used in some models of the truck, will be a severe blow to GM’s sales and revenue.

GM already is dealing with a strike by the United Auto Workers union at two of its US assembly plants and a strike of 18 parts distribution centers across 13 states. The UAW is also on strike against plants at GM rivals Ford and Stellantis, which builds cars under the Jeep, Ram, Dodge and Chrysler names. GM had already disclosed that it lost $200 million in the first two weeks of the UAW strike, which began on September 15.

But UAW President Shawn Fain announced on Friday that GM had agreed to a key union demand including current and future EV battery plants in its national labor agreement with that union, a move that averted a UAW threat to expand the strike to the Arlington, Texas, plant that makes full-size SUVs.

The UAW remained on strike at the GM plants where its members had already walked out. But that announcement raised hopes the company was getting closer to putting its labor problems behind it.

GM has nearly 10,000 UAW members on strike at its US plants facilities. But it also has laid off a thousand more workers because of how its integrated network of plants depend on one another to continue to operate. With the strike at the Canadian facilities, those layoffs at US plants could spread.

Unifor did not strike all three automakers at the same time, as the UAW has done. Instead it picked Ford as its “target” with which it hoped to reach the best possible deal that would set a pattern for what it demanded that GM and Stellantis match. This is the strategy that has been used in past rounds of negotiations by the UAW, before it decided on an unprecedented simultaneous strike at all three automakers.

“This strike is about General Motors stubbornly refusing to meet the pattern agreement. The company knows our members will never let GM break our pattern — not today — not ever,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne.

GM did not immediately have a comment on the start of the strike in Canada.

Among the wins for the union in its deal with Ford was that the company agreed to restore a version of a more traditional pension plan for workers hired since 2016. Those workers had only been receiving what is known as a defined contribution retirement plan, similar to the 401(k) plans common in the United States, rather than a defined benefit plan, which pays retired members a set amount every month for as long as they live.

Unifor and the UAW both agreed to give up defined benefit plans for new hires when the automakers were going through financial trouble earlier this century, while keeping the plans in place for existing employees. But with GM reporting record profits, both unions want the traditional pension plans restored as part of the current contracts.

After it reached a deal with Ford that was ratified by 57% of its members at the company, Unifor selected GM as its next negotiating target. it had given the company a 10-day window to reach a deal before an 11:59 pm ET Monday strike deadline.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of states at which GM employees are on strike against parts distribution centers. Those strikes are taking place in 13 states.


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