Autoworkers' Union Lashes Out at U.S., Canada Over GM

Unions say governments are blocking way for salary negotiations with General Motors.

The Canadian Auto Workers union has accused the Canadian and U.S. governments of being responsible for blocking salary negotiations with General Motors.

The Canadian government and Ontario's provincial government had given the troubled automaker until midnight on May 22 to renegotiate a labor contract deemed critical to GM's survival, or risk losing a bailout of up to three billion Canadian dollars (US$2.5 billion.) But the deadline passed without an agreement and negotiations are ongoing in Toronto.

"We're still in incredibly intense talks -- not just with GM, but with the federal and provincial governments, too," the powerful union said on May 29 in a letter sent to its membership of 10,000 GM Canada employees, out of the automaker's total of 12,000 employees. The union's master bargaining committee said that Ottawa and Ontario officials "continue to interfere in the process, making new demands all the time."

The CAW said the officials' "lack of experience in labor relations, and their repeated threats to pull the plug entirely on GM Canada, have made this process all the more difficult."

The U.S. government, although acting "behind the scenes," is "powerful all the same," the union said, noting that Washington has sought to apply in Canada rules that originated in the United States.

The CAW, which is the Canadian counterpart of the U.S .United Auto Workers Union (UAW), struck out against this "cookie-cutter" approach, which it denounced as "absolutely offensive to us" and blind to "the very different situations and cost structures in Canada compared to the U.S."

The Canadian union rejects the reductions sought in retirement plans for GM Canada's employees. "If we accepted cuts in pension benefits today, in a fruitless effort to subsidize an enormous deficit that we did not create, then every other pension plan in Canada will be in jeopardy, too," it said. But the CAW also noted that liquidating GM Canada "would be an economic and social catastrophe" and vowed to "do our best to prevent that from happening." The automaker and the CAW inked an agreement in March to reduce salaries by $7 (US$6) per hour, but Canadian authorities said the reductions were insufficient.

Ottawa and Toronto are seeking the same concessions from GM's unionized workers as Chrysler's Canadian workers -- a salary reduction of $19 (US$16) per hour. Those reductions would bring costs down to the same level as Japanese automaker Toyota in Ontario.

The new agreement between the CAW and GM would pave the way for a new viability plan by the automaker due by June 1 to obtain more public aid.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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