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

(Pixabay photo)
Morning Start: Vanilla flavouring contains goo from beaver butts

Your morning start for Friday, May 7, 2021

A structure at Highway 97 and Road 1 went up in flames Thursday night. (Oliver Fire Department)
Building in Oliver goes up in flames

Power was distrupted in parts of town while the fire was going Thursday night

The Primary Urgent Care Centre on Martin Street officially opened on March 31, 2021. (Brennan Phillips)
Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District reverses funding decision on care centre

Approval now granted to fund $1 million for Urgent and Primary Care Centre in Penticton

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin checking drivers on BC highways

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

The Tolko Mill in Kelowna on Feb. 2, 2018. (File)
Tolko receives extension for environmental assessment of defunct Kelowna mill

The extension gives Tolko time to decommission, remove structures at the site

Fun 4 All Pet Resort is closed for two weeks following a COVID-19 outbreak among staff. (Fun 4 All photo)
COVID closes Vernon dog daycare

Two staff members test positive at dog boarding centre

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

B.C. announced the launch of an app May 7 that connects youth struggling with mental health and substance use with “life-saving” social services. (Screen grab)
5 years in the making: Mental health app for youth and children launches in B.C.

The province provided $1.6-million to fund a virtual care platform

Spring Valley Seniors Community long-term care home. (Google)
Three people die as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Kelowna care home

Outbreak was declared at Kelowna’s Spring Valley long-term care home on April 28

Last year, Vernon’s Simolo Customs Ltd. received Transport Canada approval to build its low-speed electric NXT vehicles. (Contributed)
Low-speed electric vehicles given green light for Sicamous roads

Council approves bylaw for zero-emission vehicles

Amazon has announced the creation of five new facilities in B.C., to employ about 2,000 people. (Amazon/Special to Black Press Media)
Amazon adds new facilities in Langley, Pitt Meadows, Delta, Vancouver

The Vancouver port centre will be the first Amazon centre to feature robotics in B.C.

Most Read