Canadian union defies court order, continues strike at GM supplier

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WINDSOR, Ont. — Unifor will defy a court ruling and continue its blockade at a General Motors supplier plant in Windsor, Canada, the union said late Saturday night. 

Unifor says the wildcat strike at Nemak, a subsidiary of Mexico-based Alfa, will continue until further notice. The decision flies in the face of Ontario Superior Court Justice Terrance Patterson, who on Friday fined the union C$75,000 ($56,000 USD). He ordered the union to deconstruct barriers and end the wildcat strike.

The ongoing dispute between Unifor and Nemak is not connected to the UAW’s contract talks with GM in the U.S. The UAW let the contract expire at midnight and could call a strike at any time. 

The decision to stand its ground means Unifor will have to pay a C$10,000 fine every day the blockade remains in place. It also means four union officials will each have to pay C$1,000 a day.

Barricades at all three entrances to Nemak were supposed to be removed by 12 a.m. Sunday to allow work to resume at 11 p.m. EDT, Patterson ruled. 

Patterson also found Dias, Unifor Local 200 President John D’Agnolo, Vice-president Tim Little and plant chair Mike Jobin guilty of contempt for their part in prolonging the blockade at Nemak, which builds engine blocks. The union, representing the 270 workers, refused to adhere to Patterson’s Sept. 5 ruling that Unifor obey an Ontario Labour Relations Board decision, ordering and end to the strike.

Chris Taylor, a national representative for Unifor, and former president of Local 200, which represents workers at Nemak, said the union executive has “full support” of its members nationwide.

Unifor is Canada’s largest private-sector union, representing more than 315,000 people.

Unifor on Saturday did make the following proposal to resolve the dispute:

  • Nemak corporate officials would meet with Unifor over three dates within a 14-day period beginning Monday, Sept. 16 in an effort to reach a negotiated resolution to the closure announcement dispute;
  • Unifor and Nemak would establish an expedited arbitration process to provide a decision by no later than Oct. 31, 2019; 
  • Nemak and Unifor would abide by the decision, including if the arbitrator rules that the programs remain operational in the Windsor plant until at least Jan. 14, 2022, and;
  • Nemak would not discipline any Unifor member for any issues related to the labor dispute.

Unifor Local 200 members walked off the job on Labor Day and have been on the picket line ever since to protest the company’s plan to close the plant in mid-2020. The employees build engine blocks for a Cadillac vehicle assembled in China, the I-6 engine blocks for the Chevrolet Silverado assembled in Flint, Mich., and the Corvette engine block and bedplate.

A GM spokesman on Friday told Automotive News the strike in Windsor had “no impact” on Silverado or Corvette production.

When Nemak announced the pending closure in July, it said the decision came on the back of “the expected withdrawal from an export program by a client in China,” which would lead the plant to use less than 10 per cent of its installed capacity by 2020. Nemak said the Windsor plant is now too small and too inefficient to remain open as the company expands elsewhere in the world. The company said it recently purchased larger businesses outside of Canada that came with existing plants and capacity.

The union claimed Nemak and Unifor “agreed that the Windsor plant would be the sole source for GM’s I-6 engine blocks and bedplates for the Corvette.” Unifor alleged Nemak has violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire in 2022.

Unifor says the closure is part of a plan to shift production to Mexico, where wages are a fraction of those in Canada.

Taylor said on Saturday night that the blockade is also keeping Nemak from moving key tooling and technology to Mexico from the Windsor plant.

“That’s part of it,” Taylor told Automotive News Canada

But, he also said the job action “has always been about the workers.”

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