Autoworkers in Ontario refuse to back down

An Equinox Sport outside the CAMI Equinox manufacturing plant in Ingersoll, Ont. in 2008.

Despite daily bargaining talks, union representatives are unsure how long the strike at General Motors’ CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., will last.

Nearly 2,800 workers walked off the job on Sept. 17, after contract negotiations with the company broke down.

Workers want job security. Earlier this year, the company stopped producing the GMC Terrain in Ingersoll, resulting in more than 600 layoff notices. This means the plant only produces the Chevrolet Equinox, a crossover vehicle also produced in Mexico.

The plant is the largest employer in the southwestern Ontario town of nearly 12,000.

Union leaders have presented the company with several options to keep jobs in Ingersoll, said Mike Van Boekel, unit chair of Unifor Local 88, the union representing workers.

These include having the site named lead producer of the Equinox, which would mean there would be more work at the Ingersoll plant than the Mexico sites; having the company produce more than one vehicle at the Ingersoll site; or guaranteeing that the plant would get any work from future models of the Equinox first.

The company hasn’t provided any offers, he said.

The bargaining team is “plugging away,” but there’s no estimate for how long before a new deal is reached, Van Boekel said. The mood on the 24/7 picket line is still strong, but workers will start to feel the pressure of living off strike pay soon, he said.

The company’s latest statement on its website, dated Sept. 25, says it continues to engage with Unifor to reach a “competitive agreement.”

GM continues to sell well in Canada. Numbers released on Oct. 3 show total sales increased by 7 per cent in September; retail sales increased by 11 per cent in that same time.

The strike at CAMI has caused layoffs across the region. Shortly after it began, 255 workers in St. Catharines, Ont., who produced transmissions for the Equinox, were laid off. Another 180 workers at Spencer ARL in Niagara Falls, Ont., a manufacturer that produces parts for the Equinox, were also laid off.

GM reached an agreement with workers in St. Catharines last year.

Another 150 workers at suppliers in the Ingersoll area, also represented by Unifor, are without work.

Once the strike ends, these employees should be able to return to their jobs.

Support for the striking workers remains strong, said local 88 president Dan Borthwick. He said he recognizes the plant’s work stoppage is affecting many people. He wants to see job security for these workers as well.

Unior national president Jerry Dias addressed a rally at the picket line on Oct. 1. He condemned the company’s greed, saying GM views workers as “collateral damage in a quest for profits.”

The struggle is a “poster child” for everything that is wrong with the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is currently being negotiated, he said. NAFTA has negatively impacted workers in Canada, the United States and Mexico, he said.

The union has two options: fighting or folding, he told the crowd. “I can tell you, Option Two is never going to happen.”

Another solidarity rally is scheduled for Oct. 6. Local MPs and union leaders, including Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) President Chris Buckley and Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff, along with Dias, are expected to attend.

This is the first strike at the Ingersoll facility in 25 years.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

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