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Cami deal approved by union, even without job guarantee

Cami Automotive Assembly Plant workers file into the Western Fair progress building to vote on a tentative agreement to end their strike with GM on Monday, October 16, 2017. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

Cami Automotive Assembly Plant workers file into the Western Fair progress building to vote on a tentative agreement to end their strike with GM on Monday, October 16, 2017. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

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Cami Assembly workers didn’t get the job security commitment from GM Canada they were seeking, but they did receive concessions in a new contract approved Monday that will make it much more expensive for the automaker to close the Ingersoll plant, the plant’s union chairperson said.

“We found a different way to skin a cat. We made it very expensive for them if they want to shut down this plant in the future,” Mike Van Boekel, chairperson of Local 88, said after the ratification vote in London.

Workers overwhelmingly voted to approve a new collective agreement between Unifor and GM, voting 85.9 per cent in favour of the four-year deal reached Friday.

Though the union didn’t get contract language promising GM will keep production of the Equinox crossover in Ingersoll — a major issue in the 30-day strike — it did win financial commitments that are a powerful deterrent to closure.

The commitments would increase the amount GM would pay to workers if Cami closes to $300 million from $40 million, Van Boekel said.

The additional cost has to do with new contract language, the most significant part of which allows a worker with 28 years experience to be paid until they reach 30 years experience, if a layoff occurs. Unifor workers qualify for full pension with 30 years of experience.

The union has more than 1,000 of its 2,800 workers in that category, Van Boekel said.

“They will have to pay. We are comfortable we will be here for a long time,” he added.

“If we slow down, and lay off 400, there will be retirement incentives to every member eligible for this with 28 years service. They will be able to grow into retirement.”

The deal also gives workers a four per cent wage hike and $8,000 in lump sum payments over four years. It also offers a $6,000 one-time bonus for those working from January to the ratification vote, upon approval of the deal.

The wage hike would bump average wages to $36.12 an hour at the end of the four years, and skilled trades will rise to $42.27 hourly. The deal also states 25 new apprentice workers will be hired under the skilled trades program.

Though the union did not win a letter or contract language giving Cami preferred plant status in assembling the Equinox, the strike was not a loss for Unifor, said Johanna Weststar, a Western University professor in industrial and labour relations.

“I don’t think it is fair to say the union won or lost. It is a complex scenario. They got the best deal they could.”

Labour relations today are heavily impacted by international trade, making a dispute about more than the automaker and the union, and that was certainly the case in the talks between Cami and GM that were carried out against a backdrop of negotiations on a new North American Free Trade Agreement, Weststar said.

GM Canada issued a statement on the ratification.

“We are pleased that Unifor members have today ratified a new collective agreement, covering hourly employees at our Cami Assembly manufacturing plant. This new agreement builds upon Cami’s history of innovation, quality and productivity,” said Steve Carlisle, president and managing director, GM Canada, in an email message.

The 2,800 workers at Cami walked off the job Sept. 17, largely over job security issues. They wanted contract language or a letter giving Cami preferred production status, meaning more Equinox crossover vehicles would be assembled in Ingersoll than in Mexico.

In July, more than 400 workers were laid off at Cami when production of the Terrain crossover vehicle was shipped to Mexico.

GM also has been assembling the Equinox at two plants in Mexico, and began increasing production when Ingersoll workers went on strike.

Unifor and GM Canada reached a tentative agreement Friday night. Employees were scheduled to return to work Monday at 11 p.m.

Cami workers interviewed before the ratification vote said they’re looking forward to getting back to work.

“We just want a fair deal, we want to get back to work. It’s been four weeks,” said Marco Hall as he headed into the ratification meeting at the Progress Building at Western Fair District.

“It’s been tough. We are a double-income family,” with both spouses working at the plant, said his wife, Anisha Hall.

Shawn Ropp said he opposed the deal.

“I will vote no. I believe every contract can be better. This one is a little bit better but I don’t think it’s as good as we can get,” he said.

“(But) it will be nice to be back to work.”

In the contract talks, Unifor repeatedly stressed workers have been working six days a week for eight years and the plant repeatedly won quality and productivity awards.

In a memo to workers handed out at the meeting, Unifor president Jerry Dias conceded the union did not get the job security language it wanted.

“It was a demand that deserved to be met. However, at the highest level of General Motors corporate in Detroit, they coldly refused,” he wrote.

“We decided we could not, in good conscience, ask for more economic sacrifice from you in this fight.”

 

Economic gains

A four-year agreement, to 2020.

Two per cent wage hike in years one and four.

$2,000 lump sum payment in each year.

$6,000 performance bonus. One-time payment for full-time workers employed from January to now.

$21,153, total value in gains after four years.

$1,000 bonus to new workers hired after ratification, and before 2020.

Wages

General wages rise to $36.12 from $34.74.

Skilled trades such as electricians, millwrights, to $42.47 from $40.84.

Pension

Benefits maintained

Incentives

Early retirement allowance of $50,000 and a $20,000 car voucher.

For workers with less than five years experience, $20,000 payout.

Post-retirement health-care benefits.

Job security

Improvements to restructuring and plant closure provisions, workers will get unemployment fund benefits into retirement.

Enhanced early retirement, and pre-retirement allowance