The already strained relationship between Unifor, the Canadian workers union, and General Motors has now turned to legal threats. Last week, General Motors, through its lawyers Gowling WLG, demanded Unifor to “cease and desist from any further publication (in any form and media whatsoever)” of a commercial the union had planned to air several times during the Canadian broadcast of Super Bowl LIII. The ad, called “GM leaves Canadians Out In the Cold,” is critical of GM and its plan to close Oshawa Assembly in Ontario. The union said it would disregard GM’s demand, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The three-page letter from Gowling WLG laid out several issues GM has with Unifor’s commercial. One particular area of angst for the automaker was the union’s characterization of “greed” by GM when it accepted “temporary monetary assistance to the newly restructured GM entity and GM Canada in the form of an interest-bearing loan. This loan was fully paid back with interest to the Canadian government.”
GM also took issue with the ad’s use of language and how the commercial portrays the company’s $10.8 billion government bailout and the $300 cost per Canadian citizen. GM says the commercial makes it sound like there were two bailout packages—one from the government and one from citizens.
“In other words, the Advertisement uses imprecise language to conflate concepts, confuse and mislead viewers and dramatically inflate in their minds the amount of assistance actually provided to GM,” the letter from Gowling to Unifor President Jerry Dias said.
The commercial and responding legal letter are both the latest in an escalating battle between the two that started late last year when General Motors announced it wanted to close five North American factories as part of a company-wide restructuring. Unifor, unhappy with GM’s decision, began an aggressive campaign to save the factory. Unifor outright rejected GM’s plan to close the Oshawa plant; however, GM eventually rejected the union’s plan to keep the factory operating.
Things have only escalated since. Oshawa employees have held sit-in protests, walked off the line, protested the automaker at the Detroit waterfront, and blocked access to GM’s Canadian headquarters. Unifor wants to bring GM back to the negotiating table, but the automaker is instead urging the union to begin assisting employee transfers to other GM facilities.
And this isn’t the first media blitz from the union criticizing the automaker. Since GM made its announcement of a massive restricting that also called for laying off thousands while discontinuing several models such as the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Impala, the union has bought ads on TV, in print, and on billboards as a way to get the attention of GM executives. However, since GM has rejected any plan to keep the factory open, the union has called for a boycott of Mexican-built GM vehicles—a boycott co-signed by the United Auto Workers union as the Detroit automaker became Mexico’s largest car maker.
Now that the commercial has aired during Super Bowl LIII, and remains live on YouTube, GM may use legal avenues to rectify the problem, including its right to obtain “injunctive relief and to recover all losses or damage to GM’s business and reputation resulting from the same.”