Autoworkers take strike action at GM CAMI in Ingersoll, Ont.

2008 Equinox Sport outside the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. Photo: Nox360/Wikimedia Commons

Work has stopped at the GM CAMI automotive plant in Ingersoll, Ontario.

Almost 2,800 workers walked off the job on Sunday night after contract negotiations with the company broke down. It's the first strike at the plant in 25 years.

Workers want job security, said Dan Borthwick, president of Unifor Local 88, which represents the workers.

Their chief concern is having the plant in southwestern Ontario designated the lead producer for GM's Equinox. Two plants in Mexico also produce the crossover vehicle.

Being designated as lead producer for the Equinox would mean any layoffs would happen at the Mexico plants first, Borthwick said.

Earlier this year, 400 workers were laid off when the company stopped producing the Terrain in Ingersoll. That vehicle is also produced in Mexico, a Unifor press release says.

At the time, 600 layoff notices were issued, but some workers retired or took buyouts.

Now, the plant only produces the Equinox. Production of the vehicle began at the plant in January.

Workers are willing to do whatever they need to do for the plant to be the lead producer of the Equinox, said Borthwick. This would include continuing to work six days a week, something he said is common throughout the industry. They've been working six-day weeks since 2009, to help keep up with the demand for vehicles.

The plant is the largest employer in Ingersoll, he said. Manufacturing is the largest employment sector in the southwestern Ontario town of approximately 12,000 people.

Borthwick said on Tuesday morning that the company has not brought in any workers to replace the striking employees. He described the mood on the picket line, where workers are blocking the four gates to the plant, as "positive."

"Workers have been waiting for this day. We didn't want to have a strike, but we're tired of being taken advantage of," he said. The company has not been "employee-friendly" for years, he said.

Workers voted 99.8 per cent on August 27 to give the union a strike mandate. Their current contract expired on Sunday.

Workers are also looking for increases in wages, benefits and pensions.

In a statement issued on Sunday, GM Canada said it is "disappointed" a new agreement could not be secured and encouraged the company to continue negotiations.

Last year, GM ratified contracts with workers at plants in Oshawa and St. Catharines as well as a parts distributor in Woodstock. It also announced it would be adding 700 software and engineering jobs in Markham, Oshawa and Toronto.

The nearly 2,800 workers at the Ingersoll plant represent more than a third of the 8,072 GM employees in Canada.

In an email to rabble.ca, Curtis Tighe, the town's chief economic officer, said a labour disruption between Ingersoll's largest employer and the many community members who work there caused "the deepest concern." He said the town hopes the union and employer resolve the issues as soon as possible. 

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Nox360/Wikimedia Commons

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