(Adds comments from Unifor press conference)
By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Jan 8 (Reuters) - The head of Canada’s auto union blasted General Motors Co on Tuesday for pushing ahead with plans to phase out work at its Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant despite calls by workers and politicians in Canada to find a new vehicle to build there.
Unifor, the union that represents workers at the plant, has vowed to block its closure.
“They’re moving ahead with their plan. We’re going to continue to have discussions with them about solutions,” Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, the union that represents workers at the plant, told Reuters after a meeting he had with GM officials at the No. 1 U.S. automaker’s Detroit headquarters.
“I’m furious right now,” Dias added. “The reality is that GM can reverse its decision. The question is do they have the political will to do so.”
GM said in a letter to Dias that it had already considered several proposals including those the union raised at the meeting.
“Unfortunately, all Unifor’s proposals would involve substantial incremental costs and a further deterioration of GM’s competitive position,” GM said, adding that “it cannot pursue them” because of the weakening market in North America.
GM confirmed it has no plans to build vehicles in the Oshawa plant after the end of 2019, which is part of a broad restructuring announced in November. GM also has not allocated new products for four U.S. plants, raising the possibility of their closure and the elimination of a total of about 15,000 jobs in North America.
Dias previously promised “one hell of a fight” to prevent the Oshawa plant’s closure. Going into the Tuesday meeting, he has voiced optimism a solution could be found.
Dias also previously said one option would be to extend operations for nine months, when regular contract talks are scheduled to begin, allowing more time for a long-term solution.
The union has said the decision is contrary to commitments made by GM in contract negotiations with Unifor in 2016. Unifor said the deal stipulates there will be no plant closures before Sept. 21, 2020.
After he returned from the meeting with GM, Dias told reporters in a press conference in Windsor, Ontario, that the union was looking at its legal options regarding whether the Detroit company violated the labor contract.
GM officials have said the fate of the U.S. plants is subject to talks with the United Auto Workers union, which represents the U.S. workers at those plants. GM Chief Executive Mary Barra promised in early December to keep an “open mind” about another affected plant, Ohio’s Lordstown Assembly.
Hundreds of workers walked off the job at the Oshawa plant in protest on the day GM announced its plans.
GM has said the Oshawa closure affects 2,973 assembly line jobs. The company employs 8,150 in Canada. (Additional reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by David Gregorio)