Supporter of common sense
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Detroit, Michigan
How the Camaro wound up in Oshawa
AUTO INDUSTRY REPORTER
OSHAWA, ONT. -- When Chris Buckley saw the blizzard of media coverage about the rebirth of the Chevrolet Camaro in January, he knew it was time to shift into high gear.
"As soon as there was a hint that they [General Motors] were thinking of putting it into production, that's when I started lobbying to have it come here," Mr. Buckley, president of local 222 of the Canadian Auto Workers union, said yesterday.
His lobbying and major changes in work rules, approved by members of the local, paid off yesterday when General Motors of Canada Ltd. confirmed it will spend $740-million to build a new, flexible assembly plant in Oshawa that will start cranking out a modern version of the iconic sports car late in 2008.
But those were far from the only factors that led parent General Motors Corp. to choose Oshawa and save a large proportion of the 3,900 jobs that were put on the chopping block in November.
That month, the auto maker announced a continent-wide restructuring that included the closing of one Oshawa car plant and the elimination of a third shift of production at the other factory.
The Ontario government had strong leverage with the company because it had not signed a final deal with GM for $235-million in financial support that had been announced in March, 2005.
The government was prepared to cut that amount by $70-million unless GM agreed to build a leading-edge, flexible assembly plant in Oshawa, keep the third shift working, and give Oshawa a mandate for a new product, Economic Development Minister Joe Cordiano said yesterday.
While those negotiations went on, Mr. Buckley made his first breakthrough in Detroit in February, when he and CAW president Buzz Hargrove met with then-GM Canada president Michael Grimaldi and senior officials of GM Corp.
The union leaders said assembling the Camaro in Oshawa would make perfect sense.
The GM executives responded that they wanted to talk to the union about a "competitive" labour deal that would help reduce costs in Oshawa.
"General Motors had quite a shopping list and they didn't get it all," Mr. Buckley recalled yesterday.
But by early March, the two sides had reached a deal that allowed the company to outsource maintenance positions and the jobs of a CAW construction crew in Oshawa.
They also agreed to give up a few minutes of relief time, which may seem trivial, but doing so allowed the company to keep its assembly lines running a few extra minutes a day.
Mr. Buckley and other local 222 leaders in Oshawa took some heat from their members for agreeing to the deal, but the rank-and-file workers eventually approved it on March 4.
"I think it played a big role in demonstrating to General Motors that we understood the state of the company and the state of the industry," Mr. Buckley said.
Behind the scenes, governments were telling GM officials that the company owed Canada a new product mandate because they had announced in March, 2005, that they were prepared to put up $435-million in total for the company's Beacon Project.
The Ontario government signed a final agreement with GM in late March of 2006.
The City of Oshawa also swung into action, Mayor John Gray said yesterday.
GM requested that Oshawa eliminate its large industrial companies tax and allow the company to pay the regular industrial rate.
Oshawa city council agreed in April, but had to convince the region of Durham to go along with the plan.
There was a bit of a battle over that, Mr. Gray said, but regional politicians eventually agreed as well.
Auto industry consulting firms J.D. Power and Associates and Harbour Consulting did their bit in June when they declared that the Oshawa plants produced the highest-quality cars in North America in the most productive plants.
All those elements set the stage for the announcement by GM chairman Rick Wagoner earlier this month that Camaro would go ahead.
At yesterday's ceremony, Mr. Cordiano, Mr. Hargrove and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty arrived at the unveiling in vintage Camaros.