TORONTO (Reuters) - The union that represents workers at General Motors Corp GM.N in Oshawa, Ontario, said on Tuesday it had “informal discussions” in which GM raised the possibility of extending the life of an assembly line currently set to close in June 2013.
The news came as the Canadian Auto Workers opened formal contract talks with GM, meeting with management and speaking to reporters at a Toronto hotel. GM is the first of the Big Three automakers to begin negotiations with the union.
Chris Buckley, who heads the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Oshawa local, said the union would talk about the issue during contract negotiations but would not make concessions in the contract to extend the line’s operations.
“In my opinion General Motors was overly aggressive when they first approached us,” he said in an interview with Reuters.
“They’re not doing it out of the kindness of their heart, there will be a price of admission, and we have yet to see what the price of admission is.”
GM said in June it planned to close one of its two lines in Oshawa. The consolidated line employs about 2,000 workers, nearly a quarter of the CAW’s workforce at GM.
“The decision regarding Oshawa’s Consolidated Line has been made and already announced. As has previously been communicated, the Consolidated Line is scheduled to cease production in June 2013,” said Faye Roberts, GM Canada’s communications director, in an email.
The line was originally slated to stop production in 2008, but market demand for the Chevrolet Impala and Chevrolet Equinox crossover, two models produced in Oshawa, led to a reprieve, GM said in June.
The CAW’s local union leaders negotiate with management in parallel with central bargaining committees and must each reach their own local agreements.
The CAW’s central bargaining committee met with GM representatives on Tuesday morning, and with Fiat SpA’s Chrysler FIA.MI in the afternoon. The union will meet with Ford Motor Corp F.N on Wednesday.
Participants expect negotiations on a new three-year contract to be tough.
With the automakers seeking to cut labor costs it says are the highest in the world, the union argues that its members sacrificed to keep the companies afloat during the financial crisis, and should be rewarded now that the automakers have turned profitable.
“We expect the company to reward our members and to allow our members to share in their success,” Buckley, who is also chair of the CAW’s GM master bargaining committee, told reporters before meeting with the company.
“All three car companies are doing a lot better than they were four years ago.”
Asked earlier in the day whether any of the Oshawa jobs are still on the table, GM Canada’s Labor Director David Wenner told reporters: “We’ll have open dialogue to have constructive conversations with our labor partners so that we can reach a collective agreement that is best for both parties.”
Editing by Frank McGurty and Diane Craft