October 16, 2019

A tentative deal following the bitter month-long General Motors strike in the U.S. has brought hope that 120 laid-off auto parts workers in the Windsor area could soon return to work.

“Obviously this is positive news for us and the units we represent, and the whole community,” said Unifor Local 195 president Emile Nabbout, whose local represents several area companies threatened by the strike. “Any time there is a dispute, when it is on the right track to be resolved, it is always good news.

“So I think this is a good step in the right direction. It’s good for the labour, it’s good for the company and hopefully they are able to make some concrete deal.”

The United Auto Workers union said Wednesday they had reached a tentative agreement with GM after five weeks of “intense negotiations.”

About 49,000 GM employees went on strike Sept. 16, halting work at 33 of the company’s auto factories and 22 other facilities in the U.S.

Striking United Auto Workers (UAW) union members picket at the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant on September 25, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. BILL PUGLIANO / GETTY IMAGES

The strike also caused ripple effects for workers and companies across Southwestern Ontario. Among them is Lakeside Plastics in Tecumseh, said Nabbout, which laid off 120 people on Sept. 23 because of the strike.

After taking concessions a decade ago to help GM return from bankruptcy, UAW members were bitter their compensation hasn’t grown with the company’s return to profitability, and angry about plans to close four U.S. plants.

Details of the new tentative agreement have not been made public, but the UAW said it contains “major gains” for GM employees.

“The No. 1 priority of the national negotiation team has been to secure a strong and fair contract that our members deserve,” said UAW Vice-President Terry Dittes, also Director of the union’s GM Department.  “Out of respect for our members, we will refrain from commenting on the details until the UAW GM leaders gather together and receive all details.”

With all the stuff they helped the company with in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the company is still moving facilities to Mexico

The union’s GM National Council will meet to review details of the deal on Thursday, then vote on whether to recommend it to the general membership for ratification.

Union officials will also decide Thursday whether to end the strike immediately if the National Council approves the deal, or keep it going until ratification by the general membership.

“Ultimately, the agreement will not be ratified until UAW-GM membership across the U.S. votes to approve it,” said the UAW said.

Since the ratification vote is going to the general membership, laid off supply workers in Canada likely won’t be back on the job until at least next week, said Flavio Volpe, president of the Auto Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

“I presume that the local guys have been talking to their membership all the way along, so the leadership is not going to get surprised by a no vote,” said Volpe.

But ratification still isn’t a sure thing, he said, noting workers voted down a deal with Chrysler in 2015.

Volpe said he didn’t know how many Canadians were affected by the U.S. strike. But 10 per cent of the auto supplier employees in Canada, or about 10,000 people, work for companies that have GM as a customer, he said.

“These are private companies so no one is reporting, certainly not to me, who is off and who isn’t,” said Volpe.

“Those parts suppliers would have other customers, too. But it’s a real significant amount.”

Given it could still be week or two before production resumes, assuming the deal is actually ratified, Nabbout said there is still a lot of uneasiness among Canadian parts suppliers and their employees.

“Right now, we don’t know because they are still in early discussions,” said Nabbout. “They reached a tentative agreement subject to approval by the rank and file members and other local unions across the border. It’s good news but we don’t know when our employees will be expected to return back to work because it could take a week to go through the 49,000 members across the border to ratify that collective agreement.”

While Local 195 members are eager to see an end to the GM strike, Nabbout said they still support the American workers who have been on the picket line for the last month.

“In recession time, they had to take extra measures to protect the business,” he said. “With all the stuff they helped the company with in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the company is still moving facilities to Mexico. So even when the workers take one step forward to assist the company to remain in business in challenging times, General Motors has shown no remorse with an opportunity to move.”

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