CAW Approves Camaro Changes

March 12, 2006

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Members of Canadian Auto Workers Local 222 in Oshawa, Ont., have approved a series of work rule changes that could lead to General Motors announcing soon that it plans to move ahead with plans to build a new Chevrolet Camaro.

The Camaro was one of the big favorites of journalists and car buffs at  the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. GM's executives have promised they will decide quickly if they will turn the concept Camaro into a production car before end of the decade.

With the feasibility study still in the works, GM negotiators recently settled in for eleven days of intense negotiations with CAW representatives from the Oshawa assembly complex where GM now has three assembly plants. CAW officials have said that the negotiations are a prelude to a decision on actually building the Camaro.

Late last week, the workers at Oshawa voted in favor of what CAW officials described as a cost-saving agreement demanded by GM. The production members of CAW Local 222 voted 74 percent to support the proposal, while skilled trades voted 70 percent. With the union’s acceptance of GM’s demands, GM Canada management should now be in a position to make its pitch for future product allocation from Detroit, said Chris Buckley, president of CAW Local 222.

“Some very difficult decisions have been made, not only by the union leadership, but by our members as well. Without a doubt, this has been a very emotional event.”

The changes will not affect the wages, benefits, pensions, or time off the job for CAW members. However, union officials said that the agreement does make room for as many as 2500 CAW members, nearing retirement age, to leave the GM payroll early.

The changes in the agreement are designed to make the Oshawa facility more competitive in the global market. The complex currently has about 11,000 employees who staff three different assembly plants and other units.

GM said last November that one of the assembly plants in Oshawa will close in 2008 as part of cost-cutting initiatives. Targeted for shutdown is the Oshawa No. 2 plant, which currently builds the Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick LaCrosse/Allure. The No. 1 plant is set to lose assembly of its Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Impala models in 2009 and would pick up the rear-wheel-drive Camaro along with other models under the proposal approved by the CAW. The Monte Carlo and Impala would likely become all-wheel drive.

The CAW says turning Oshawa’s two car factories into one flexible assembly plant that can produce different vehicles would better position GM Canada to secure as much as $701 million in new investment from General Motors.

“We were fortunate in Oshawa to have had the opportunity to work on securing our futures,” Buckley said. “There are a number of GM facilities in North America which will not, and will unfortunately close, putting thousands of working people on the unemployment line. Our members in the vehicle assembly plants and in the parts suppliers deserve a secure future. CAW members at GM have done their part; it’s now time for General Motors to step up to the plate,” said Buckley, who said the Oshawa complex now had a good shot a winning the Camaro work.

In the complicated internal politics of GM product allocation decisions, the CAW maintains it has first claim on the Camaro because the last Camaro had been built at an old GM assembly plant in Ste. Therese, Quebec, that had been staffed by CAW members.

Despite the likelihood of a smaller work force at Oshawa, the union said it did not want to flirt with the chance of GM opting to close both car plants and losing about 5600 jobs. There is also a truck assembly plant at Oshawa.

“Nobody wants to be having this vote, so in that regard there is not a lot of good feeling,” said CAW spokesman Peter Kennedy.

Other potential changes that were rejected by the union during contract negotiations last September include outsourcing janitorial staff and getting rid of an in-house construction crew, opening the door for outside contractors to come into the complex, the CAW said.

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