Four-week strike at Ontario autoplant ends

GM’s CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont. Photo: General Motors

Work has resumed at General Motors’ CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont. 

Workers returned to the job late Monday evening, after voting earlier in the day to accept a new four-year deal with the automaker. This ends the four-week strike that began when nearly 2,800 employees, represented by Unifor Local 88, walked off the job on Sept. 17 after contract negotiations broke down.

The strike was used as an excuse for GM to announce layoffs at several suppliers for CAMI in the area.

Members voted overwhelmingly in favour (85.9 per cent), as did 78.7 per cent of trades members. 

The agreement includes 2 per cent wage increases in the first and fourth years, annual $2,000 bonuses and a one-time $6,000 signing bonus.

The contract also guarantees up to 10 days of continuous paid leave during the agreement for workers experiencing domestic violence and establishes a committee to research and recommend a mental health awareness program.

But it lacks what the union wanted most: a letter naming the southwestern Ontario plant lead producer of the GMC Equinox. 

Union leaders wanted the designation to secure workers’ jobs. Two plants in Mexico also produce the Equinox. Being named lead producer would mean the Ingersoll plant would produce the most vehicles, and future layoffs would happen at the Mexico sites first. 

The Ingersoll plant — the largest employer in the town of nearly 12,000 — was hit hard by job losses earlier this year. More than 600 layoff notices were issued when GM moved production of the Terrain to Mexico. 

Despite this, the union says the new deal will make it more expensive for the company to shutter the plant. GM would need to ask members if any of them want to retire before deciding to close the CAMI site, said unit chair Mike Van Boekel. Members who are eligible for early retirement would receive a $50,000 retirement allowance and a $20,000 vehicle voucher. A worker with 28 years’ of experience would have to be paid until they’ve worked for 30 if layoffs happen.

There will be more than 1,200 workers who have been at the plant for at least 28 years in April, Van Boekel said.

“I’d rather have that letter,” he said, calling the agreement a “common ground” for both sides. 

Media reports say GM was considering closing the plant days before the final deal was reached. Van Boekel said he has since heard the company is no longer planning on moving jobs from Ingersoll to Mexico.

He said he’s “confident” the plant will be open for a while.

GM Canada President and General Director Steve Carlisle called the ratification “welcome news” in a statement. He said he is confident CAMI employees will continue producing award-winning vehicles for years to come. 

Union leaders were not as quick to praise the company. Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president, called the company’s approach during negotiations “heartless.” In a letter recommending members accept the new deal, he called the union’s demand to be designated lead producer “fair and reasonable,” especially considering the awards CAMI has earned for its work during the past several years.

He said the demand “simply made sense.”     

Dias further said in the letter the situation shows how NAFTA must be renegotiated to prioritize workers. Dias is advising the government on negotiations for the trade deal. 

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca’s labour reporter.

Photo: General Motors

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