DETROIT/TORONTO (Reuters) - Members of the Canadian Auto Workers union, who have blockaded the headquarters of General Motors of Canada (GM.N) for three days now, vowed to ramp up their fight after failing to win a reprieve from GM on Friday on the closure of its Oshawa, Ontario, truck plant.
“When I talk about being responsible, we have been very responsible -- our members have been in those workplaces building the best cars and trucks in the industry -- but I can’t guarantee that’s going to last for much longer,” said Chris Buckley, president of CAW local 222 in Oshawa.
“What I can guarantee, and I said this to General Motors about an hour ago on the highway, they want their building back and they’re not getting their building back,” Buckley said to cheers from hundreds of union supporters decked out in red shirts sporting a maple leaf and the words, “Made in Canada Matters.”
Angry auto workers have blocked the road leading to GM Canada’s head office in Oshawa since Wednesday, protesting against GM’s plans to shut the nearby truck plant in 2009.
Buckley asked all union members to be at the blockade on Saturday morning, where he said the union would roll out “the next phase of our fight back.”
CAW President Buzz Hargrove told reporters after a 90-minute meeting in Detroit with senior company executives, including Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, that he was very disappointed with the lack of results.
“We still feel betrayed,” he said.
Hargrove said the union may challenge GM’s decision to close its Oshawa truck plant in court.
The plant, which makes the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra, employs about 2,600 hourly workers. The factory is one of four in North America GM said it will close to cut capacity and shift production toward more fuel-efficient cars as record gasoline prices depress truck sales.
GM, which has seen its U.S. sales drop 16 percent this year, is also looking to sell its Hummer SUV line.
The struggling automaker said it was forced to take the drastic steps, which echo moves taken by Ford Motor Co (F.N), because of signs the record-high pump prices had driven U.S. consumers away from trucks and SUVs for good.
“We have been accused of being a slow company in the past. We have to react fast,” GM Canada spokesman Stew Low said.
But Hargrove and union officials accused GM of violating the terms of a just-completed three-year labor contract they say obliges GM to keep the Oshawa truck plant open until 2011.
Hargrove said Wagoner showed no signs on Friday of considering a reversal of the decision he announced earlier this week at GM’s annual meeting of shareholders.
“We weren’t able to convince them to suspend a decision to close it. So we’re going to pursue other avenues, whatever avenues are available to us,” said Hargrove, who has previously said a strike is a possibility.
Low said GM had begun talking to the CAW this week about bringing a third car model to the “flex” line in its Oshawa car plant. That production line, which will begin making the Chevrolet Camaro this year, was already scheduled to get a second car model as part of the recent deal with the CAW.
Low said GM planned no legal action against CAW workers who have blockaded the company’s head office. About 1,000 GM salaried workers were still working from home or in plant or hotel meeting rooms as of Friday, he said.
Ron Carlyle, a local CAW official who represents GM’s Oshawa car plant and attended the meeting with the company executives, said workers felt betrayed.
“At the end of the day, they told us to go to hell,” Carlyle said.
Reporting by Kevin Krolicki and Soyoung Kim in Detroit; John McCrank in Toronto