General Motors and Unifor: Smoke and Mirrors

di Joe Volpe del May 11, 2019

TORONTO - There they were. The President of General Motors Canada – good for another seven and a half months – and the President of Unifor, the Union that represents the soon-to-be former workers at Canada’s oldest auto assembly plant, trying to make silk pus from a sow’s ear.

“It’s all about trying to save as many jobs as possible; trying to make the best out of a bad situation; we tried our utmost to create better conditions and negotiate better outcomes”, they said with the predictability that comes with talking points designed to “spin the narrative”.

So, losing 2,500 assembly-line jobs in return for 300 in a testing track for automated vehicles to be assembled elsewhere is somehow a good thing. Good deal, right?

After all, this is a $170 million dollar “investment” by GM in the community – even as it is abandoning its [vital] footprint in Ontario. Besides, GM is “gifting” the land to the City. Just don’t ask what the market value of that land is today, or likely to be for the next generation.

By closing the Oshawa plant, GM is taking an estimated one quarter of a billion dollars out of the economy in annual wages and salaries, forever. In addition, another 17,000 jobs from parts and after market jobs may be affected. Those in the parts-supply network (probably 300-500, and their $25 million in wages and salaries), will likely follow the assembly jobs out of the country.

One could argue, as the Federal Minister for Industry has done, that every single job is important. It’s a truism. What is lost by the closure of the GM plant is a sizeable portion of our Manufacturing sector. So, also, is the public’s trust in the ability of the Union movement to generate long term attachment by Enterprise to any one location.

It won’t matter a tinker’s dam that plants like the one at Oshawa would be perennial front-runners on the efficiency and quality of production scale in the Industry, or within the company’s global network, according to J.D. Power, an automotive rankings company based in the USA. Eventually, the market fails to keep pace with the production output.

The Canadian market is restricting relative to other growth areas where labour costs are considerably lower.

It would appear that a $0.74 dollar (relative to the USD) and comparably favourable government health and social programmes are no longer sufficient counterweights to lower-tax regimes. Such jurisdictions also happen to be “sluggish” when it comes to promoting the benefi ts of a higher-wage economy or taxation to sustain a social and health benefits network for all.

Back to the concept of a good deal. Why was Premier “Ontario is Open for Business” Doug Ford not at the announcement? This is the second Auto-related announcement in as many weeks that his schedulers could not find time for him to attend.

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