June 9, 2008 / 9:31 PM / in 9 years

GM says it will take steps to end Canada blockade

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - General Motors warned on Monday it was ready to go to court to end the blockade of its Canadian headquarters in Oshawa, Ontario, but is still willing to talk to its angry union.

<p>General Motors employees hold signs outside its Canadian headquarters in Oshawa, Ontario June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill</p>

The company said it also lost some vehicle production at its Oshawa facilities this weekend because of ongoing protests against plans to phase out truck production at a plant in the city, about 60 km (40 miles) east of Toronto.

The announcement of the shutdown prompted angry workers to set up a blockade at the GM headquarters last week, forcing the salaried administrative employees there to work from home or hotel meeting rooms.

GM issued a statement on Monday saying it was ready to take “necessary legal means required to end the ongoing blockade.” The statement did not elaborate on what legal steps the company planned to take.

Canadian Auto Workers union President Buzz Hargrove said he was not surprised GM was moving to get an injunction, and said it was a smart thing for the company to have waited a few days for the situation to have calmed down.

“It’s quite interesting that they recognized that the anger and frustration was pretty high and they better let it set for a few days before they applied (to the courts,)” Hargrove told Reuters. “I‘m glad they did let it set a few days.”

GM blames the shutdown, set for 2009, on falling demand for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles in the face of rising fuel prices, but the Canadian Auto Workers union says the company is violating its newly signed labor agreement.

The plant, which makes the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, employs about 2,600 hourly workers. It is one of the four North American plants that GM said it will close to cut capacity and to shift production toward more fuel-efficient cars as record gasoline prices depress truck sales.

The automaker said it was still willing to talk to the CAW about producing fuel-efficient cars at the facility, but warned it cannot continue to build large volumes of trucks in Oshawa because consumers are not buying them.

Hargrove said that while the CAW was willing to talk he warned that GM’s announcement left negotiators from both sides with a credibility problem in the eyes of workers.

“We had a new truck. We had a new investment. We had a new commitment in writing and they just ripped thought that. So to say to the workers, don’t worry we’re going to start some new talks, that’s just not going to fly,” Hargrove said.

GM’s statement defended its position, saying both sides agreed in their most recent labor contract that keeping truck production going at Oshawa was dependent upon market demand.

The labor pact also recognized that GM’s product mix might have to change because of “factors that are beyond the scope of responsibility and control of the parties involved,” the company’s statement said.

The union maintains the agreement obliges GM to keep the Oshawa truck plant open until 2011.

GM also produces the Chevrolet Impala in Oshawa and is set to start turning out the new Chevrolet Camaro this year.

Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson

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