Unifor, Nemak dig in their heels over Canada plant closure

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WINDSOR, Ont. — Unifor President Jerry Dias directed a couple of pointed messages to Mexico-based supplier Nemak at a rally in Windsor, Ont., Thursday morning.

First: The only way the union will end its illegal strike and blockade at a supply plant there is through negotiations that end with the plant remaining operational until the current collective agreement expires in 2022. 

Second: “Nemak, if you don’t like it, you can kiss my union ass!” Dias shouted while looking directly into a camera broadcasting his speech live on Facebook.

“I have a message for the CEO, who I know is watching: Welcome to Windsor, and welcome to Unifor!” he screamed.

Both sides appear to be dug in for the long haul, even though the two held high-level talks over the phone Wednesday

In an effort to end its ongoing job action at the General Motors supplier, Unifor submitted to Nemak representatives on Wednesday an offer to resolve its dispute over the company’s decision to close the plant in mid-2020, nearly two years before the end of the current collective bargaining agreement.

Union members walked off the job on Labor Day (Sept. 2) and have been on the picket line ever since.

Employees erected blockades at all three entrances to the plant and have defied orders from the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the Superior Court to dismantle the barriers and return to work.

Dias on Thursday accused Nemak of using the courts as a way to “circumvent the collective agreement” and allow Nemak, a  subsidiary of Alfa, to close the plant for good. He and three local union members, including Unifor Local 200 President John D’Agnolo, face contempt charges for disobeying a court order to end the illegal strike. That contempt of court hearing was postponed Tuesday by Justice Terrance Patterson of the Superior Court of Ontario, according to a report in the Windsor Star.

“Sit down, talk, get a mediator, get an arbitrator, do what you have to do,” Patterson told lawyers for both sides, according to the newspaper. “Then come back before me and I’ll resolve it then if it hasn’t been resolved.

Nemak 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.

General Motors on Thursday said the work stoppage in Windsor has had no impact on production of either the Silverado or Corvette.

Too inefficient

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 says the Windsor plant is now too small and too inefficient to remain open as the company expands elsewhere in the world. The company says it recently purchased larger businesses outside of Canada that came with existing plants and capacity.

The union claims Nemak and Unifor “agreed that the Windsor plant would be the sole source for General Motors I-6 engine blocks and engine blocks and bedplates for the Corvette.”

Dias said on Thursday the collective agreement also calls for — and Nemak allegedly promised — new product to be introduced into the plant before 2022, which would allow it to remain operational.

Nemak in a statement Thursday insisted it is adhering to the agreement. The company has never commented on new product or contracts.

“The collective agreement was negotiated based on market conditions and volume forecasts in 2016. Those volumes projections and market conditions have changed significantly,” Nemak said. “This volume development makes the operation not viable. 

“Under the existing labor agreement, Nemak has the right to cease operations under adverse volume conditions with 60-day advanced notice. 

“The collective agreement has full plant closure provisions which Nemak has adhered to.”

‘Fight like hell’

An emotional D’Agnolo urged the crowd to continue fighting.

“Our jobs are heading south. We need to fight like hell,” he said, choking back tears..

Dias insisted Unifor isn’t going anywhere “until Nemak confirms what they signed up for in 2016.”

But, the company said the union’s action “is hurting our employees and our customers and puts the entire operation at risk.”

Dias scoffed at management’s warning.

“We’re already there,” he said. “If they’re working on the premise that a collective agreement isn’t in effect, then we’re working on the premise the collective agreement is not in effect.

“They only place this gets solved is at the bargaining table.”

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