* GM asks Cami plant workers to start talks early
* CAW workers vote Feb 10 on whether to open talks
* March 24 set aside for ratification vote
* Union reached pattern deal with GM in Sept
By Susan Taylor
TORONTO, Jan 21 (Reuters) - The Canadian Auto Workers union is recommending workers at a General Motors Co plant in southern Ontario accept GM’s request to start bargaining for a new contract months ahead of the September expiration of the current deal in the hope that doing so will help secure jobs.
A union official said on Monday he believes GM wants the new contract so that it can lock in long-term costs before starting construction of a major addition at its Ingersoll, Ontario, plant.
The automaker has begun site preparation and moved “acres of dirt,” said Mike Van Boekel, chairman of the Cami plant unit of Local 88 of the Canadian Auto Workers. Van Boekel believes the addition will house a welding shop, which would be a requirement for production of next-generation vehicles in two years’ time.
The Cami plant, which last year produced more than 300,000 of GM’s fast-selling Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers, employs about 2,700 hourly workers.
Production runs 24 hours a day, six days a week, with mandatory overtime, Van Boekel said, but still has not kept pace with demand.
There has been media speculation that production could move to Spring Hill, Tennessee, and Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, in 2015, Van Boekel said. GM said it has made no announcements about new products.
“GM has told us in meetings that they do plan on building where they sell, and GM is selling a lot of vehicles in Canada,” Van Boekel said.
Workers will vote Feb. 10 on whether to start talks early, and could vote on a new contract on March 24.
The union said it will seek the same core terms as in the contract negotiated in September 2012 for CAW members at other GM plants in Ontario.
“Since the master agreement with the CAW was completed in September 2012, it makes sense to pull ahead the CAMI discussions,” said GM spokeswoman Adria MacKenzie.
“With the master agreement already in place, these discussions will be related to the local contract at CAMI ... the March timing is possible, however, the local membership needs to approve the change in timing before discussions can begin.”
Under the four-year master contract negotiated by the CAW and GM, wages are frozen for existing workers for the first three years. Workers get a cost-of-living adjustment in the fourth year, and series of lump sum bonuses. New hires will start at a lower hourly rate than under the previous contract and take 10 years to reach the top level of the pay scale, up from six years previously.