OSHAWA -- It's a deal.
Unifor members at General Motors facilities in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Woodstock ratified an agreement that secures investment in all three communities, converts 700 precarious jobs and offers wage improvements.
Unifor President Jerry Dias visited Oshawa early Sunday to encourage his membership to accept the agreement before hitting the road to St. Catharines and Woodstock.
"The gains made in this agreement are historic and more than what has been achieved in the past 10 years. Unifor has shown what is possible when workers have a union, and a united bargaining committee to speak on their behalf," Dias said.
The new agreement was ratified by 64.7 per cent overall from all three locals. The breakdown was 66.5 per cent from members in production and 56.5 per cent by skilled trades. The ratified deal with GM sets the pattern for contract talks that begin with Fiat-Chrysler Automotives on Monday. Once a deal with FCA is ratified, negotiations will begin with Ford.
"I am proud to say today that we have secured a bright future, one that includes good full-time jobs with benefits and wage increases for future generations, and a solid economic base for our communities and all our members," said the Unifor-GM Master Bargaining Committee Chair, Greg Moffat of Local 222.
When the tentative deal was first announced, union officials trumpeted that the Oshawa plant “clearly has a bright future” with the automaker committing hundreds of millions of dollars to the local facility.
One of the key planks in the agreement is the additional work coming to the plant with the return of the Chevy Silverado to Oshawa. Union officials said that Oshawa will do the final assembly work on the pickup truck after the vehicles are shipped to Ontario from an American plant.
That left some union members scoffing at the new agreement Sunday morning. Many questioned how secure GM’s commitment is to Oshawa.
“I’m not very happy with it,” said Josh Calhoun, a 14-year GM employee, as he prepared to vote on Sunday. “What happens if the price of gas goes up? This truck is no sure thing for Oshawa.”
He added that shipping partially-made vehicles to Oshawa isn’t the equivalent to a new product.
“It’s already half-built, it’s not a new vehicle,” said Calhoun. “It’s pretty much already built.”
Matt Lohmann, another 14-year veteran at the Oshawa GM plant, said employees in Durham would only be adding “the guts” to the Silverado.
“It’s pretty much put together already,” said Lohmann, adding that he too was unhappy with the proposed new deal.
Steve Hardy shook his head outside the GM Centre on Sunday morning as well.
The 27-year employee had high hopes for a deal that was agreed to just before the strike deadline.
“They held out to the deadline so I thought we’d get something much better than this,” he said.
Russ Rak, a GM retiree who spent 41 years at the Oshawa plant, also raised questions about the new deal.
“It’s not good,” he said, standing outside the Oshawa Generals home rink. “How solid this is is another question.”
He wonders if GM will keep its word if gas prices rise in years to come and Silverado sales plummet.
“Is there concrete language in there to stop GM from changing its mind two years down the road if the truck’s not selling?,” asked Rak.
The retiree, who’s been out of the plant now for 22 years, also noted there’s been no pension increase for former workers for 10 years now and questioned the “concession” to switch new hires to a defined pension plan.
Dias praised the work of the bargaining committee, calling the agreement an “incredible deal” for Oshawa workers.
He said the proposed pact will ensure the GM plant remains in operation past 2019 and stressed the fact Oshawa will be the only plant in North America to manufacture both trucks and cars is a “huge” coup for Local 222.
As for concerns about the half-built truck coming to Oshawa, Dias defended the union’s decision.
“The Silverado is the No. 1 selling GM product, period,” said the union president. “If I’m going to get a product, I want the No. 1 selling product.”
Other key highlights in the tentative agreement include a lump-sum payment totalling $12,000 for employees and 2-per cent raises for workers in the first and final year of the four-year deal, said Dias.
Unionized GM workers in St. Catharines and Woodstock were also expected to vote on the proposed deal on Sunday. It’s expected the results will be released publicly late Sunday night or some time Monday.
It was not known how many Unifor members voted in Oshawa but a steady stream of employees was seen entering and exiting the General Motors Centre Sunday morning.