Jerry Dias, the leader of Canada’s auto union, is severe in his rhetorical attacks on General Motors’s decision to shut down its Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant and lay off thousands of union employees by year-end.
But when it concerns action, Unifor’s president has been far more circumspect.
Dias promised “drastic measures” to compel GM to expand production of sedans and pickups, consisting of the Silverado, to September 21, 2020, when the present labor contract expires.
For more than a century, GM’s complex located in Oshawa, a city east of Toronto, has been an economic engine for Ontario and Canada, harboured by thousands of highly paid manufacturing jobs.
Following GM’s November announcement of a broad restructuring, consisting of Oshawa, the union supported brief production disruptions, a call to boycott GM’s Mexican-made vehicles and a “solidarity” concert for employees by British musician Sting.
But Dias has not yet positioned the biggest weapon in his arsenal – a general strike to completely stop production of Silverado and Sierra pickups, important to the Detroit automaker’s profitability.
Dias admits there is mixed support for a walkout between union workers. Some Oshawa employees fear that closing GM Canada would harm them much more than the company.
Unifor represents 2,600 assembly-line employees at GM Oshawa and 1,800 workers at plants supplying the Oshawa operations, whose contracts generally have lower pay, benefits and security. Some 1,500 work at feeder plants that are completely dependent on Oshawa.
That is a significant drop from the mid-1990s, when Unifor’s predecessor union counted 14,750 hourly workers in Oshawa.