When General Motors announced its restructuring plan last November, Unifor took a hard stance against the automaker’s decision, which included closing the Oshawa, Ontario factory. Since then, the union has staged protests, held sit-ins, and walked off the line. And things have only escalated, with the union blocking access to GM’s Canadian headquarters and airing a commercial during Super Bowl LIII that drew a rebuttal from GM’s lawyers. For everything Unifor is doing in an attempt to keep the Oshawa plant open—even for just another year—it’s likely hurting its members more than General Motors.
A Reuters report has Jerry Dias, the head of Unifor, on the record saying there’s “mixed support” among union members for a general strike. Such an action would halt production of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, which are big moneymakers for the automaker. However, not everyone working at Oshawa or the plants supplying Oshawa are protected by the union. A work stoppage or strike would hurt non-union members.
Dias has reached out to the United Auto Workers union in the U.S. in an attempt to coordinate action against the automaker. GM plans to close four additional plants in the U.S. as part of its restructuring. So far, the UAW has joined Unifor in calling for a boycott of Mexican-built General Motors vehicles. GM is now Mexico’s largest automaker. Earlier this month, Dias UAW President Gary Jones and UAW-GM Vice President Terry Dittes. While the two unions released a joint statement saying they have “committed to act in solidarity on behalf of our members and working families in Canada and the United States,” there are no details about a two-pronged attack against GM.
Unifor’s attempt to keep Oshawa open will likely be unsuccessful. It’s been nearly three months since General Motors announced its restructuring plan, and has so far continuously asked both Unifor and the UAW to assist employees with transferring to other GM facilities that need workers. GM has said it has 2,700 open positions for the roughly 2,800 employees that would be affected by the closure of those five plants. So far, nearly 1,500 have accepted a transfer to another factory.
The automotive market is changing. General Motors and other automakers are not only trying to prepare for the future—electric and self-driving vehicles—but also an expected plateau or decline in overall auto sales in the next few years. Producing low-selling, low-profit models while attempting to invest in new technologies and products would be challenging if there is a sales slowdown.