Cami clash comes as auto bucks head south

The Chatham Daily News - - NEWS - JONATHAN SHER

Four weeks into the strike at the Cami auto plant in Inger­soll, a new re­port paints a bleak pic­ture of in­vest­ment in Canada’s auto in­dus­try still re­bound­ing to pre-re­ces­sion lev­els.

With job se­cu­rity a key is­sue in the walkout at the Gen­eral Mo­tors-owned plant, and the Uni­for union push­ing to have it des­ig­nated a lead pro­ducer for the hot-sell­ing Chevro­let Equinox, the strike in­ter­sects di­rectly with the loss noted in the re­port of in­dus­try in­vest­ment to low-wage Mex­ico and the south­ern U.S.

Cap­i­tal in­vest­ment in the Cana­dian auto assem­bly sec­tor since the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis — which hit the in­dus­try hard — has been cut nearly in half com­pared with the pe­riod be­fore the down­turn, DesRosiers Au­to­mo­tive Con­sul­tants re­ported Wednesday.

Cap­i­tal spend­ing for Canada’s mo­tor ve­hi­cle assem­bly in­dus­try has av­er­aged $1.2 bil­lion a year for 2010-17, the com­pany’s re­port said, down from $2.3 bil­lion a year on av­er­age from 2000-09.

Mean­while, av­er­age new cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­tures for the parts and ac­ces­sories in­dus­try dropped to $565.9 mil­lion from $887.7 mil­lion for the same pe­ri­ods.

“De­spite small oc­ca­sional in­creases in the pe­riod be­tween 2008 and 2017, there has been no sus­tained in­di­ca­tion of a re­turn to the heights recorded in the mid- to late ’90s and late 2000s,” DesRosiers said. “Canada’s loss of in­vest­ment market share to Mex­ico and the south­ern U.S. over this pe­riod has been well doc­u­mented.”

The 2,800 Cami work­ers walked out Sept. 17, seek­ing guar­an­tees the plant will re­main the main pro­ducer of the Equinox and seek­ing to pre­vent work mov­ing to Mex­ico, where GM also pro­duces the pop­u­lar sport util­ity ve­hi­cle.

Asked if GM had clearly com­mu­ni­cated whether it had re­jected the union’s de­mand for a let­ter guar­an­tee­ing job se­cu­rity, Uni­for Lo­cal 88 pres­i­dent Don Borth­wick said Wednesday, “Ask GM.”

The com­pany didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to a Free Press re­quest for com­ment.

Job se­cu­rity be­came para­mount after GM laid off 400 Cami work­ers this year as the auto gi­ant shifted GMC Ter­rain pro­duc­tion to Mex­ico.

At the time, the com­pany said the shift was meant to free up space in Inger­soll to boost Equinox out­put, but Uni­for later claimed GM was de­creas­ing — not in­creas­ing — pro­duc­tion.

As the two sides in the stand­off headed back to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble Wednesday, Borth­wick said Uni­for still had no an­swer from the au­tomaker on the work­ers’ key de­mand. “They have not re­sponded,” he said.

Be­cause of the in­dus­try’s just-in-time parts de­liv­ery sys­tem, with com­po­nents de­liv­ered straight to the assem­bly line rather than ware­houses, the strike has idled many in the wider in­dus­try, a key part of South­west­ern On­tario’s econ­omy, in­clud­ing at auto parts mak­ers and truck­ing firms.

Cami em­ploys work­ers who live across the re­gion, but the strike’s fall­out is most keenly felt in nearby com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing Inger­soll, a town of 13,000, in re­duced con­sumer spend­ing.

“We’re feel­ing the ef­fects — whether it’s at our gro­cery stores or com­mer­cial out­lets downtown,” Inger­soll Mayor Ted Comiskey has said.

De­spite the in­vest­ment de­creases noted in the DesRosiers re­port, it said in­vest­ments by truck body and trailer mak­ers have in­creased on av­er­age from $52.7 mil­lion for 200009 to $82.7 mil­lion since 2010.

Se­cur­ing new in­vest­ments in Canada was a key goal for Uni­for in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the big U.S. au­tomak­ers last year. Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler all pledged to in­vest hun­dreds of mil­lions in Cana­dian op­er­a­tions.

GM’s Cami work­ers are cov­ered by a sep­a­rate con­tract with the au­tomaker. It’s not just job se­cu­rity that’s been a bar­rier to a new deal — the two sides re­port­edly also are apart on wages and ben­e­fits.

It’s the first strike at Cami in 25 years.

“It’s very un­usual, given the type of labour re­la­tions we’ve had over the last decade or so,” said labour an­a­lyst Kristin Dz­iczek of the Cen­ter for Au­to­mo­tive Re­search in Ann Ar­bor, Mich. “This is very un­usual.”

GM has made re­cent in­vest­ments at the Cami plant, which it views favourably, she said. The plant also makes a pop­u­lar ve­hi­cle. So Dz­iczek never ex­pected a strike there.

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