After roughly a month-long strike, Canada’s Unifor union and General Motors reached a new agreement on Friday, October 13th over the contract at the CAMI Automotive plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada. The new agreement was ratified by the workers at the plant on Monday, October 16th. The new contract provides several improvements in job security language for the 2,800 CAMI workers, but does not provide the strong job protections Unifor was looking for.
The strike at CAMI began on September 17th. The plant’s workers are under a separate contract from those at GM’s other unionized operations in Canada, which include the GM Oshawa assembly plant, St. Catharines powertrain plant and the Woodstock parts warehouse.
Job security ended up being one of the key issues in the negotiations. The subject came to the forefront after GM shifted production of the second-generation GMC Terrain crossover to the GM San Luis Potosi plant in Mexico, resulting in about 410 people being laid off at CAMI this past summer. The first-generation GMC Terrain was produced at CAMI through the run-out of its production.
The new four-year contract improves protections offered by the plant in case of closing and restructuring, which were available under the previous contract, while also offering raises and better early retirement options to workers.
The new contract increases the severance and retirement costs GM would be subjected to if it were to close CAMI.
According to Mike van Boekel, chair of the Cami unit of Unifor local 88, the costs increase to $290 million from $190 million in the previous contract.
The job security clause also enables supplementary unemployment benefit payments that work in conjunction with employment insurance during layoffs to be used as what is often referred to as “grow-in” payments for employees who retire before they are eligible for pensions.
Early Retirement Options
The new contract also provides new early retirement incentives of $50,000 plus a $20,000 vehicle voucher.
The purpose of these provisions is to encourage some longer-serving members to retire, which would allow the union to recall some workers laid off when production of the GMC Terrain was moved to GM San Luis Potosi plant operated by GM Mexico this past summer.
According to Mr. van Boekel, the new retirement incentives will contribute to about half of the 410 people that were laid off when Terrain production was shifted in getting their jobs back.
Other employees who were laid off will be offered jobs at GM’s powertrain plant in St. Catharines, Ontario, which produces engines and transmissions, as well as the parts/aftersales warehouse in Woodstock, Ontario.
The new four-year agreement also provides workers a total of $12,000 in bonuses and lump-sum payments along with 2 percent annual wage increases in the first and fourth years of employment.
Lead Equinox Plant
The union failed to win language designating the CAMI plant as the lead plant for assembling the Chevrolet Equinox crossover. Doing so would have guaranteed that the plant is first in line for new investment when the Equinox is redesigned and last in line for layoffs if sales slow.
The issue became the primary point of contention during negotiations.
“Our demand to protect the Equinox was not only fair and reasonable, it simply made sense,” Unifor president Jerry Dias wrote in a bulletin to workers as they voted on the agreement on Monday.
But executives “at the highest levels of General Motors corporate in Detroit” refused to include such language in a new contract, wrote Mr. Dias. “As a result and after much internal discussion we decided that we could not in good conscience, ask for more economic sacrifice from you in this fight.”
In fact, GM told Dias and Unifor that it was preparing to increase production of the Equinox substantially at the two plants in Mexico, due to a hot market for the crossover.
“The issue became, do we settle it now and stop the bleeding as it relates to them ramping up Mexico,” said Mr. Dias. According to him, the issues raised in the CAMI strike make it that much more obvious why the North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA) needs to be renegotiated or scared.
According to Stephen Carlisle, president of General Motors of Canada, ratification of the deal is welcome news.
“The negotiations process requires a great deal of straight talk, creative problem solving, and compromise to achieve a positive outcome for both the membership and the company,” Mr. Carlisle said in a statement.
About CAMI Assembly
The GM CAMI facility, otherwise known as CAMI Assembly, is located in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada. It currently produces the third-generation Chevrolet Equinox.
About Chevrolet Equinox
Now in its third generation, the Chevrolet Equinox is a compact crossover that slots above the Chevrolet Trax and below the Chevrolet Traverse. It will also be positioned below the rumored to be the future Chevrolet Blazer.
The Equinox is one of GM’s hottest-selling vehicles in both Canada and the United States. The CAMI plant produces the majority of Equinox units for North America, but the model is also assembled at two GM Mexico facilities – GM San Luis Potosi and GM Ramos Arizpe – also share in producing the vehicle for North America.
Equinox inventories fell to 41 days supply, substantially below the 60 to 70 days supply that is seen as the healthy amount for most popular models from mainstream automakers such as Chevrolet.
Following are historic Chevrolet Equinox sales in the United States and in Canada.
Sales Results - USA - Equinox
*** This manufacturer is now publishing only quarterly numbers for this market. Monthly figures may be averages.
Sales Results - Canada - Equinox