Cami strike coincides with loss of Canadian investment by automakers
Striking workers at Cami huddled together during a rain deluge Wednesday morning in Ingersoll. (HEATHER RIVERS, Woodstock-Sentinel Review)
Four weeks into a strike by Cami workers, General Motors still hasn’t responded to a key union demand — a letter guaranteeing job security at the Ingersoll plant, a union official said.
Meanwhile, Wednesday, a new report by an industry analyst appears to underline the issue at the heart of the strike by 2,800 workers — the loss of investment in Canada by automakers drawn instead to low-wage Mexico and the southern United States.
The report by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants says capital spending for Canada’s motor vehicle assembly industry has averaged just $1.2 billion a year since 2010.
That’s down from $2.3 billion a year on average from 2000 through 2009, a period that included a deep recession that hammered automakers and Southwestern Ontario’s manufacturing sector.
DesRosiers says parts and accessories manufacturers have also dropped capital spending to $565.9 million from $887.7 million before the recession.
At Cami, workers represented by the Unifor union want guarantees the plant will be remain the main producer of GM’s hot-selling Equinox vehicle.
Asked if GM has clearly communicated whether it had rejected the union’s demand for a letter guaranteeing job security, Unifor local 88 president Don Borthwick said Wednesday, “Ask GM.”
General Motors Canada did not immediately responded to a Free Press request for comment.
The lack of job security became paramount after GM laid off 400 Cami workers earlier this year as the auto giant shifted production of the GMC Terrain to Mexico.
At the time, the company said the shift was meant to free up space in Ingersoll to boost production of the Equinox, but Unifor later claimed GM was decreasing — not increasing — production.
As the two sides in the standoff headed back to the bargaining table Wednesday, Borthwick said Unifor still did not have an answer from the automaker on the workers’ key demand.
“They have not responded,” he said.
Because of the auto industry’s just-in-time parts delivery system, with components delivered straight to the assembly line rather than being warehoused, the more than month-long strike has idled many in the wider industry, including at auto parts makers and trucking firms that supply Cami.
Cami employs workers who live across Southwestern Ontario, but the strike fallout is especially being felt in nearby communities, most particularly in Ingersoll, a town of 13,000, in reduced consumer spending.
“We’re feeling the effects — whether it’s at our grocery stores or commercial outlets downtown,” Ingersoll Mayor Ted Comiskey said.
The strike, the first in 25 years at the plant, began Sept. 17.
It’s not just job security that has been a barrier to a new deal — the two sides are also apart on wages and benefits.
One analyst has said she’s puzzled by the long labour disruption.
“It’s very unusual given the type of labour relations we’ve had over the last decade or so,” said labour analyst Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “This is very unusual.”
GM has made recent investments at the Cami plant, one that it views favourably, she said. The plant also produces a popular vehicle. So Dziczek never anticipated a strike there.
It may be the automaker simply wants to avoid setting a precedent on guaranteed employment, she said.
Despite its report Wednesday, saying there’s “no sustained indication” that Canada’s automotive manufacturing sector will return to pre-recession levels of capital investment, DesRosiers noted investments by truck body and trailer manufacturers have increased on average from $52.7 million for 2000 to 2009 to $82.7 million since 2010.
— With files by Canadian Press
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CAMI AND THE STRIKE
General Motors-owned Ingersoll plant opened in 1989
2,800 unionized workers, 300 salaried staff
Builds the Equinox crossover SUV, work the employees want preserved in Ingersoll
Strike began Sept. 17 over job security and monetary issues
Last strike, 25 years ago, lasted five weeks