June 17, 2008 / 1:50 AM / 9 years ago

CAW meeting with GM fails to resolve plant row

TORONTO (Reuters) - Talks between the Canadian Auto Workers union and General Motors of Canada on Tuesday ended without a resolution to their dispute over the closing of GM’s Oshawa, Ontario, truck plant, union President Buzz Hargrove said on Tuesday.

<p>Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove talks to the media in the lobby of the General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan June 6, 2008. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook</p>

“They were pretty clear, as of today, that the truck plant will close in the fall of ‘09,” he said, adding later that a strike by the union is still a possibility.

The meeting, which included Hargrove and Dean Munger, executive director of labor relations for GM Corp North America, came a day after an Ontario court ordered an end to a 12-day blockade of GM’s Canadian headquarters building by the union.

The company told the union on June 3 that it would close its Oshawa truck plant in late 2009, putting as many as 2,600 workers out of a job. The announcement came just two weeks after contract negotiations in which GM said it would keep the plant open until at least 2011.

Infuriated auto workers called the company’s turnaround a “betrayal” and responded the next day by jamming the road leading to GM Canada’s headquarters, blocking access and forcing more than 900 office employees to work from home.

While the Ontario court judge told the union to end what he called an illegal blockade, he also said GM acted with “almost deceitful behavior” in contract negotiations, which could make future bargaining difficult.

Hargrove emphasized the credibility issue when talking about a third car that GM said it was considering adding to its car plant in Oshawa.

“They held out the carrot again of talking about more car production,” he said. “The problem we have with that, if we were agree to that today, and then go into Oshawa, our members would laugh at us, the community would laugh at us, the media would laugh at us. You just had a truck, you lost it, how can you have any credibility saying you can offset that loss by a new car production.”

GM said it must close the truck plant, along with two others in the United States and one in Mexico, as demand for pickup trucks and SUVs has dropped steeply due to soaring gas prices and an economic downturn in the United States.

But Chris Buckley, president of Oshawa’s CAW Local 222, who was the union’s point man at the blockade and was also at the meeting, said he asked GM about the 14 new vehicles it plans to introduce into the North American market over the next 18 months, and whether Canada would share in the production.

“We want to know what vehicles, where they’ll be produced, and how many are coming to Canada,” he said, adding that GM said it was still looking into the matter.

GM makes the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra at the Oshawa truck plant and the Chevrolet Impala at the Oshawa car plant, which is also set to begin production of the new Camaro muscle car later this year.

Other suggestions the union said it put on the table included retooling the truck plant to build other pickup models, or if the issue is oversupply, to have all North American pickup plants share the pain and shut production for up to five months in a rotating fashion.

GM said again it would look into the ideas, according to the union.

Keith Osborne, chairman of CAW Local 222, said earlier on Tuesday the CAW would likely file a grievance with the Ontario Labour Relations Board sometime this week.

Meanwhile, the two sides are due back in court on Thursday, when a judge is expected to decide on GM’s request for C$1.5 million ($1.47 million) from the union and some of its members for damages it said it incurred during the blockade.

($1=$1.02 Canadian)

Additional reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Peter Galloway

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