September 6, 2016 / 3:12 PM / in a year

Canada union picks GM as strike target, warns of big impact

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s main autoworkers’ union on Tuesday named General Motors Co as its strike target in contract talks, and its top official warned that any walkout could disrupt the automaker’s production across North America.

Newly built cars sit in a shipping lot near General Motors Car assembly plant in Oshawa, June 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Bargaining with the Canadian arms of GM, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles kicked off in August. The union, Unifor National, typically selects one company for intensive negotiations. That company’s deal sets a pattern, and other auto manufacturers are expected to agree to similar contracts.

Union President Jerry Dias set a strike deadline of Sept. 19, the expiration date for four-year contracts covering GM, Fiat Chrysler and Ford.

Among GM plants that could be hit by a strike are the St Catharines, Ontario, powertrain facility, which supplies engines to the company’s CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. The CAMI plant assembles the strong-selling Chevrolet Equinox and the GMC Terrain.

While CAMI workers would not walk out in any strike because they work under a separate labor contract, Dias said the union’s members at CAMI would not accept engines from other sites.

“The reality is we are not going to accept engines from anywhere else to go into our CAMI facility,” Dias said in an interview. “General Motors would be foolish to attempt to ship in engines from somewhere else.”

Dias also said he expected U.S. plants represented by the United Auto Workers would not increase output to replace production from St Catharines.

“I would expect that the UAW will respect any action that we have here in Canada,” he said.

A UAW spokesman said the union’s president, Dennis Williams, was traveling and unavailable for comment.

“I‘m not sure how sympathetic the UAW would be because one of the issues could be taking product away from them,” said Arthur Schwartz, a labor analyst and former GM negotiator.

At an earlier news conference, Dias said he does not expect a strike, but added that the carmaker must change course and announce investment plans before any deal is ratified.

FOCUSING ON AN AGREEMENT

“We continue to remain focused on finding a new agreement that is mutually beneficial and competitive,” said David Paterson, GM Canada’s vice president for corporate and environmental affairs.

He did not repeat the company’s longstanding stance that it cannot make any investment decisions until after a new labor contract is signed. GM declined to comment on the impact of a shutdown at St Catharines.

Kristin Dziczek, labor analyst at the Center of Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said there is no obvious candidate for GM vehicle production to be added at Oshawa, Ontario, which is a union priority.

“You’ve got to take the chance of a strike seriously,” said Dziczek. “These are tough issues they’ve got to get over.”

The Oshawa plant has one assembly line scheduled to shut down in 2017. On its newer flex line, it builds the Cadillac XTS, which is not a strong seller, the Buick Regal, which sources have told Reuters will likely move to China or Europe in 2017, and the Chevrolet Impala, which is also made in Detroit. (reut.rs/2bRfZzc)

Reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto; Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by David Gregorio and Leslie Adler

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