Times Colonist

GM employees protest ‘betrayal of settlement’

Workers erect road blockade at GM head office

- BAL BRACH

A blockade set up by hundreds of General Motors employees yesterday morning may soon be removed after GM announced it will meet with the Canadian Auto Workers union tomorrow in Detroit.

CAW members and their supporters erected the roadblock in front of GM Canada’s headquarte­rs in Oshawa, Ont., to protest the automaker’s decision to effectivel­y shut down the truck facility in this city next year.

CAW members set up the blockade along the road leading to the GM headquarte­rs early yesterday morning to protest what they call a blatant betrayal of a contract settlement reached two weeks ago.

“There is no trust with their employer, and why would there be? We just signed a new three-year collective agreement . . . and General Motors has taken that away from us,” said CAW Local 222 president Chris Buckley.

“I am encouragin­g my members to remain on their jobs,” he added. “I want my members to continue to build the best trucks and cars in the industry.”

However, he said “when their shift is complete, they’re more than welcome to join us here at this protest.”

In a show of solidarity, supporters from other CAW locals across Ontario were expected to travel to Oshawa to join their colleagues.

“The mood right now is very upbeat,” Buckley said. “The membership is looking for the union to take some action — that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

CAW president Buzz Hargrove estimates about 2,600 Oshawa auto workers will be out of a job when the plant ceases production next year.

He said the move violates the contract settlement, in which GM committed to assemble products at the Oshawa plant in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of labour-cost reductions.

Meanwhile, David Paterson, vice-president of corporate and environmen­tal affairs for GM Canada, said the company has set up a meeting with the CAW for tomorrow in Detroit.

While yesterday’s protest did not disrupt production, Paterson said most CAW members employed at the Oshawa headquarte­rs worked from home because of the blockade.

Paterson said he understand­s the frustratio­n of employees, but the industry is undergoing a structural shift and GM had few options.

GM announced the closure of the Oshawa plant Tuesday as part of a shift toward cars and crossover utility vehicles as high gasoline prices kill demand for its biggest vehicles. The company will also halt production at two plants in the United States and one in Mexico.

“The bottom line is that it does not make sense to produce products that people aren’t buying,” he said.

“We really have to make this move from trucks to cars. It’s really difficult so we’re going to help our employees through this difficult change.”

Some of that help may come in the form of early pensions, according to Paterson.

GM is also considerin­g hiring some laid-off employees at the truck plant to work at a GM car plant, also located in Oshawa.

Sales of sub-compact cars are up 50 per cent at GM and, according to Paterson, there is room for more employees at the car plant.

“We’ve tried to move as many people to early retirement so that we don’t have them on lay off. But there’s about a 1,000 people on lay off in Oshawa today. The first thing we’re doing is bringing some of them back because we’re going to have this extra car production.”

In Ottawa, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty suggested that part of the solution will be early retirement for workers.

The industry has an “aging workforce” and those that get early retirement will have “very good pensions.”

 ??  ?? Protesters fly Canadian Auto Workers flags in front of the GM Canada headquarte­rs in Oshawa.
Protesters fly Canadian Auto Workers flags in front of the GM Canada headquarte­rs in Oshawa.

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