(New throughout, adds comment from union president)
By Allison Martell and Ethan Lou
TORONTO, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Canada’s main autoworkers union remained far from a deal with General Motors Co on Monday evening though the automaker had made a contract proposal, the union’s president said ahead of a midnight strike deadline.
GM’s Canadian arm and the union, Unifor, have been divided over union demands that GM commit to building new vehicle models at its Oshawa, Ontario, plant.
“We have a long way to go, and we’re running out of time, and I‘m not in a great mood at this moment, to be perfectly candid,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “We’re not where we need to be, let’s put it that way.”
Dias said GM had made a proposal, but talks were not going as well as he had hoped.
A strike would involve nearly 4,000 workers at two GM plants in the Ontario cities of Oshawa and St Catharines. A third GM plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, is excluded from talks because its 2,700 workers have a separate contract.
GM Canada spokeswoman Jennifer Wright said in an email that the company was focused on working with Unifor to reach a “mutually beneficial and competitive new agreement.”
Canada has been struggling to get new investments from automakers in its once-thriving vehicle assembly industry, losing out to the southern United States and lower-cost Mexico.
The union said separately that it had also been fighting over the past few days to hold onto more secure defined benefit pensions plans and seeking higher wages.
Earlier on Monday, Dias said he was encouraged by the way talks were going and that “everything is on the table.” Dias, however, reiterated his position that the union would not extend its strike deadline.
Without a deal, GM members would have a legal right to strike at midnight (0400 GMT) on Tuesday.
The impact of a strike on GM’s North American production is uncertain because the automaker has capacity outside Canada to build the same engines and transmissions produced at its St Catharines plant.
What is not clear is whether the United Auto Workers, the U.S. labor union, which has said it supports Unifor, would be willing to boost production at unionized U.S. GM plants.
A four-year contract covering the workers of GM, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co in Ontario expires on Monday. The union chose GM as its strike target for contract talks, and a GM deal would set the pattern the other manufacturers would be expected to follow.
Contract talks could save 2,500 jobs at GM’s Oshawa car assembly, or take the plant one step closer to closure. The automaker was already on the verge of shutting one of two assembly lines at its Oshawa plant.
Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said a strike would be difficult for his Canadian members, but worthwhile if it means securing the future of GM’s Oshawa plant.
Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Susan Taylor and Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto; Editing by Peter Cooney, Dan Grebler and David Gregorio