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The Canadian auto union picks GM as a strike target

The head of Unifor, the Canadian auto workers union is focusing on General Motors as this year’s strike target in negotiations. Any walkout at GM Canada would be felt almost immediately in America. Workers at GM in Canada make several key engines that are used in Silverados, Tahoes and Camaros so any shortages could quickly stall American plants.

Unifor, which used to be called the CAW until 2013, says the negotiations with GM in Canada will set the pattern for its talks with Ford and Fiat-Chrysler. Unifor national president Jerry Dias said today “Our demand is clear, invest today to build a future for tomorrow”.

The Canadian contracts with the Detroit Three expire at midnight, September 19th. Workers have overwhelmingly voted to give their leaders the right to call a walk out if there is no agreement by then. Unifor says it represents 23,050 workers for the Detroit Three.

The union is concerned that GM may close its Oshawa plant, because the vehicles that are produced there are being shifted to other facilities. The union says it won’t sign a contract with the auto giant unless they have guarantees that the plant will stay open past 2019.

GM Canada has said repeatedly that it will not talk about Oshawa’s future until after the contract is ratified. Often in the past, product plans have been tied to negotiations. The union has been known to accept less in raises if the workers are guaranteed to have jobs for a certain amount of time or if the company guarantees to create more jobs.

The Canadian plant at St. Catharines produces transmissions as well as V-6 and V-8 engines. The V-8s are for the popular trucks like Chevy Silverados and GMC Sierras, as well as the top selling SUVs like Chevy Tahoes and GMC Yukons. The V-6s power the Camaro as well as a number of the SUVs like Buick Enclaves and Chevy Traverses.

If there is a strike, American UAW workers can suffer two ways. Their plants could be shut down because of parts shortages, but also workers that produce parts for vehicles built in Canada could be idled because the parts aren’t needed.

It is a complicated game of chicken. Automakers fearing an economic downturn are trying to be more nimble in determining production and want the freedom to be able to shift production to more economical plants and facilities. Unions are trying to score as many jobs as possible, at the highest wages and benefits available. The bankruptcies for both General Motors and Chrysler leave valuable lessons for everyone concerned.