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)

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
EDITORIAL: Heightened tension over face masks

Incidents of anger and conflicts over mandated masks happening too frequently

Robert Emms spotted these beauties in a waterway in downtown Penticton. (Robert Emms)
Trumpeter swans visit downtown Penticton

The beautiful birds are regulars near the shores of Okanagan Lake on Highway 97

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

Ecologist and writer Don Gayton wraps up the Penticton Arts Council’s March events. (Submitted)
Penticton Arts Council unveils March’s programs

Making your own comics and short stories highlight March events

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, Tuesday, June, 12, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Okanagan-Shuswap real estate market continues hot start to 2021

Sales in February were up more than 100 per cent over last year, reports the Association of Interior Realtors

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

The restart of the program means seniors can receive affordable meals delivered five days a week Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post.
Princeton Meals on Wheels one year trial will cost $92k

Program restarts, and volunteer drivers are needed

Most Read