GM union bends in bid to win Camaro CAW hopes to land $800-million deal
AUTO INDUSTRY REPORTER
The Canadian Auto Workers union has agreed to changes in work rules that it hopes will lead to an $800-million investment by General Motors of Canada Ltd.
to build the new Chevrolet Camaro, but probably seals the fate of one of the auto maker's two car plants in Oshawa, Ont. CAW members working at the two car plants will vote this week on the changes, which union leaders said GM insisted were necessary to ensure that Oshawa remains the leading contender for the investment, which will turn the two car plants into one flexible assembly complex able to produce a variety of vehicles.
The investment -- which GM will make a final decision on later this year -- is for vehicles code-named Zeta, which includes the new Camaro and replacements for the Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo now assembled in Oshawa.
If the union had refused to agree to the changes, it was faced with the prospect of GM closing both car plants and wiping out 5,600 jobs, said Chris Buckley, president of CAW local 222, which represents those workers and a total 11,000 at the firm's Oshawa operations.
"I'd rather have one large assembly plant than close two," Mr. Buckley said. "It was bargaining with a gun to your head."
He noted that another 3,000 people at various parts suppliers also depend on the two plants for their jobs.
"This is no time to roll the dice with peoples' futures," he said. GM could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The company announced in November that it will close the Oshawa No. 2 plant in 2008 when it stops assembling Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick LaCrosse/Allure sedans, a move that will cut about 2,400 jobs.
Meanwhile, the neighbouring Oshawa No. 1 plant was scheduled to lose its Impala and Monte Carlo models in 2009.
But based on the quality and productivity performance by CAW members in Oshawa -- plant 2 was the highest-rated plant in terms of quality in the annual J.D. Power and Associates survey last year -- GM decided to give the CAW a shot at winning the Zeta investment, said Peter Kennedy, a national CAW representative.
"They're not playing us off against anybody else yet," Mr. Kennedy said. "It's kind of ours to lose."
The changes in work rules would not take effect unless GM goes ahead with the investment and do not affect wages, pensions or other benefits.
The union has agreed to demands from GM that it rejected during bargaining on a new contract last fall, including outsourcing janitorial staff and eliminating an in-house construction crew.
No decision has been made yet on whether to go ahead with the Camaro, which was reintroduced as a concept car to rave reviews at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.
The muscle car went out of production at a GM plant in Ste. Therese, Que., in 2002. The potential investment in Oshawa is part of the auto maker's $2.5-billion Beacon project, which also includes spending of about $130-million on education and research and development projects with several universities.
The $2.5-billion includes $435-million in financial help from the Ontario and federal governments.
GM Canada president Michael Grimaldi said in November when General Motors Corp. announced the Oshawa closing and 30,000 job cuts in North America that all aspects of Beacon would go ahead.
GM has been battered by a decline in market share from more than 50 per cent a few decades ago to less than half that number today and is in the midst of a major restructuring that includes the job cuts, a new deal on health care costs with the United Auto Workers union in the United States and the sale of assets, such as its finance arm.