Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Unifor National President Jerry Dias make their way to a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 27, 2018. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s auto industry at risk if GM closes Oshawa plant, union president says

GM president warned he was ready to have his members take job action unless the plant stays open

The head of the union representing workers at General Motors’ car plant in Oshawa, Ont., argued Tuesday that the company’s decision could lead to the collapse of the auto-parts industry in Canada and demanded a sharp response from the Trudeau Liberals.

Unifor president Jerry Dias said General Motors “just showed the president of the United States and the prime minister of Canada their middle finger” by moving production out of Canada and the U.S. and threatening the jobs of about 2,500 workers he represents at the Oshawa plant.

“We’re playing with a corporation that plays by their own rules. So we have to have governments that are going to play by very strict rules as well,” Dias said after meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill. “I mean, if you’re going to have a company that’s going to show us their middle finger, then I think our government should show them their middle finger as well.”

Dias said GM has moved production of five models of vehicle to Mexico and the United States in the past few years, and if the Oshawa plant closes, the company will have only one left here.

He blamed low labour standards in Mexico, and called on Trudeau to work with U.S. President Donald Trump to keep manufacturing jobs from shifting south.

The revamped North American trade pact — which is set to be signed by the end of the week — should help eventually, but the parts that apply to the auto sector won’t kick in for years and by then it could be too late, Dias said.

VIDEO: GM to close Oshawa plant, four U.S. plants in massive reorganization push

In the meantime, Dias said, the Liberals should put tariffs on GM exports coming out of Mexico to dissuade the company from following through on its plans.

A General Motors Canada executive said the company isn’t planning to divest itself of its other Canadian enterprises as Dias claimed. David Paterson said the company is hiring 500 people for its technical centre in Markham, north of Toronto, to help write software for self-driving cars.

“We sell in Canada, we manufacture in Canada, and we’re actually the biggest and fastest-growing new technology automotive company in Canada,” said Paterson, the company’s vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs. “We’re growing faster than anybody in the industry in new technology, at the same time as we’re unfortunately going through, next year, this really difficult change with regard to our manufacturing base in Canada.”

Dias’s tough talk underscored the union’s fury at the company’s decision to close plants and slash salaried and executive staff as part of a global restructuring meant to save the company US$6 billion annually.

Chantal Gagnon, a spokeswoman for Trudeau, said he and Dias discussed their respective talks with GM. Trudeau also told Dias about his own call with Trump earlier Tuesday about the auto industry “and how best we can stand up for people affected on both sides of the border.”

Trudeau faced questions going into a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning about whether there was anything the federal government could do to keep the Oshawa plant open.

“Obviously our focus is on the families right now, making sure we are supporting the folks who are facing difficult times,” Trudeau said.

Time and again during his press conference, Dias rejected any notion the plant will actually close when asked about possible employment insurance help for affected workers, or whether other automakers could fill the void in Oshawa.

“We are talking about keeping the plant open, period. Our members in Oshawa want their jobs. They’re not looking to be retrained,” he said. And he suggested that despite his talk of helping workers facing layoffs, Trudeau doesn’t believe the closure of the plant is a fait accompli, either.

Dias will meet his American counterpart this week in the United States to decide what, if any, action the union will take, such as having workers walk out at other GM plants alongside the ones slated to close.

Dias warned he was ready to have his members take job action unless the plant stays open.

Asked if anyone from Trudeau’s office tried to dissuade him from doing that, Dias bluntly said the Liberals were smarter than that.

— With files from Ian Bickis

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Reflecting on the impact of dementia in a loved one

January is Alzheimer Awareness Month

Red Deerians can weigh in on proposed Bighorn Country investment tonight

Telephone town hall takes place 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Vibrant colours highlight newest exhibit at The Hub

‘Chaos to Calm’ by Cathy Fee runs through to the end of March

Neonatal nurse practitioner joins NICU care team

Babies requiring specialized care at Red Deer Hospital have extra set of hands caring for them

The old Greyhound Bus Depot is being demolished

The Red Deer building has been around for decades

UK lawmakers reject Brexit deal in 432-202 vote

House of Commons votes against the deal struck between Britain’s government and the EU

Theresa May wins no-confidence vote after Brexit deal rejection

UK PM can keep her job, after House of Commons voted 325-306

Liberal candidate steps aside after singling out Jagmeet Singh’s race

Karen Wang says she made comments online that referenced Singh’s cultural background

Alberta doctor accused of sexual assault asked to voluntarily give up practice

College says Dr. Barry Wollach should discontinue his practice, given the seriousness of the allegation against him

Defending champions Team Scheidegger will fight to keep title

Stettler hosting 2019 Alberta Scotties provincial women’s bonspiel

WATCH: World-renowned illusionist, magician, escapist performs in Stettler

Matt Johnson performs two sold-out shows at Stettler Performing Arts Centre

Olivia and Liam top list for Alberta baby names in 2018

Premier Rachel Notley announced the top baby names in Alberta in 2018; Loki didn’t make the cut

Edmonton Police charged 236 people with auto theft in 2018

Police states many of the thefts are crimes of opportunity

Woman’s complaint leads to sexual assault charge against Calgary priest

Malcolm Joe D’Souza, who is 62, has been charged with one count of sexual assault

Most Read