Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Unifor National President Jerry Dias make their way to a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 27, 2018. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Unifor National President Jerry Dias make their way to a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 27, 2018. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s auto industry at risk if GM closes Oshawa plant, union president says

GM president warned he was ready to have his members take job action unless the plant stays open

The head of the union representing workers at General Motors’ car plant in Oshawa, Ont., argued Tuesday that the company’s decision could lead to the collapse of the auto-parts industry in Canada and demanded a sharp response from the Trudeau Liberals.

Unifor president Jerry Dias said General Motors “just showed the president of the United States and the prime minister of Canada their middle finger” by moving production out of Canada and the U.S. and threatening the jobs of about 2,500 workers he represents at the Oshawa plant.

“We’re playing with a corporation that plays by their own rules. So we have to have governments that are going to play by very strict rules as well,” Dias said after meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill. “I mean, if you’re going to have a company that’s going to show us their middle finger, then I think our government should show them their middle finger as well.”

Dias said GM has moved production of five models of vehicle to Mexico and the United States in the past few years, and if the Oshawa plant closes, the company will have only one left here.

He blamed low labour standards in Mexico, and called on Trudeau to work with U.S. President Donald Trump to keep manufacturing jobs from shifting south.

The revamped North American trade pact — which is set to be signed by the end of the week — should help eventually, but the parts that apply to the auto sector won’t kick in for years and by then it could be too late, Dias said.

VIDEO: GM to close Oshawa plant, four U.S. plants in massive reorganization push

In the meantime, Dias said, the Liberals should put tariffs on GM exports coming out of Mexico to dissuade the company from following through on its plans.

A General Motors Canada executive said the company isn’t planning to divest itself of its other Canadian enterprises as Dias claimed. David Paterson said the company is hiring 500 people for its technical centre in Markham, north of Toronto, to help write software for self-driving cars.

“We sell in Canada, we manufacture in Canada, and we’re actually the biggest and fastest-growing new technology automotive company in Canada,” said Paterson, the company’s vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs. “We’re growing faster than anybody in the industry in new technology, at the same time as we’re unfortunately going through, next year, this really difficult change with regard to our manufacturing base in Canada.”

Dias’s tough talk underscored the union’s fury at the company’s decision to close plants and slash salaried and executive staff as part of a global restructuring meant to save the company US$6 billion annually.

Chantal Gagnon, a spokeswoman for Trudeau, said he and Dias discussed their respective talks with GM. Trudeau also told Dias about his own call with Trump earlier Tuesday about the auto industry “and how best we can stand up for people affected on both sides of the border.”

Trudeau faced questions going into a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning about whether there was anything the federal government could do to keep the Oshawa plant open.

“Obviously our focus is on the families right now, making sure we are supporting the folks who are facing difficult times,” Trudeau said.

Time and again during his press conference, Dias rejected any notion the plant will actually close when asked about possible employment insurance help for affected workers, or whether other automakers could fill the void in Oshawa.

“We are talking about keeping the plant open, period. Our members in Oshawa want their jobs. They’re not looking to be retrained,” he said. And he suggested that despite his talk of helping workers facing layoffs, Trudeau doesn’t believe the closure of the plant is a fait accompli, either.

Dias will meet his American counterpart this week in the United States to decide what, if any, action the union will take, such as having workers walk out at other GM plants alongside the ones slated to close.

Dias warned he was ready to have his members take job action unless the plant stays open.

Asked if anyone from Trudeau’s office tried to dissuade him from doing that, Dias bluntly said the Liberals were smarter than that.

— With files from Ian Bickis

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lake Trail Middle school in Courtenay. File photo
Lake Trail Middle School closed due to threat

The credibility of the threat is being assessed and the investigation is being completed

The 19th annual Gingerbread Village & Teddy Bear Baskets Silent Auction runs online from Dec. 1-18. Photo supplied
Crown Isle’s annual Gingerbread Village & Teddy Bear Baskets Silent Auction goes online for 2020

Crown Isle Resort and Golf Community hosts the 19th annual Gingerbread Village… Continue reading

Two of the weapons seized in a Nov. 8 traffic stop in Black Creek. Photo supplied by RCMP
RCMP seize guns, drugs in Black Creek traffic stop

Two arrested in connection with incident

Canadian Tire Courtenay’s Owner Bert Heeringa and General Manager Keith Pistell displaying the donated sanitizer. Photo supplied.
Courtenay Canadian Tire donates 2,400 litres of hand sanitizer to local not-for-profits

Organizations can request sanitizer via the Comox Valley Community Foundation

Christmas will look a bit different in Cumberland this year, not only because of COVID restrictions but due to changes from BC Hydro about hanging decorations on the poles. Record file photo
Snowflakes a no-go for Cumberland’s power poles

Village, business association looking to promote shopping local for holidays

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The BC Coroners Service has published updated reports on illicit drug toxicity deaths and fentanyl-detected drug deaths to Oct. 31. There were 162 illicit drug toxicity deaths reported in October. Pixabay photo
Drug toxicity levels killing more than five people daily: BC Coroners Service

The latest data from the BC Coroners Service says five people a… Continue reading

FILE - This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.  Pfizer announced Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, more results in its ongoing coronavirus vaccine study that suggest the shots are 95% effective a month after the first dose. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)
VIDEO: B.C. planning for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the first weeks of 2021

The question of who will get the vaccine first relies on Canada’s ethical framework

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Canada can make vaccines, just not the ones leading the COVID-19 race

Canada has spent more than $1 billion to pre-order seven different developing COVID-19 vaccines

British Columbia Premier John Horgan speaks during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Horgan is set to introduce his NDP government’s new cabinet Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP cabinet built to tackle pandemic, economic recovery, says former premier

Seven former NDP cabinet ministers didn’t seek re-election, creating vacancies in several high-profile portfolios

The COVID-19 test centre at Peace Arch Hospital is located on the building’s south side. (Tracy Holmes photo)
B.C. woman calls for consistency in COVID-19 post-test messaging

‘Could we just get one thing straight?’ asks Surrey’s Deb Antifaev

Most Read