Angered by loss of work to Mexico, Cami workers give union massive strike mandate

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For a large manufacturer, it is unheard of.

Cami workers began formal talks Monday with GM Canada on a new contract for its workers, said Mike Van Boekel, chairperson of Unifor Local 88, the union.

It has done so armed to the teeth, he would add. A recent vote by workers to give the bargaining unit a strike mandate saw 99.8 per cent vote to walk off the job if they don’t get what they want.

Angered over the loss of its Terrain crossover vehicle to a plant in Mexico earlier this year, the workers want GM Canada to know that if the loss of more than 400 jobs on the eve of bargaining was intended as intimidation, it backfired.

“They are frustrated over the vehicle moving for no reason other than greed,” said Van Boekel.

“They want to be rewarded for the last eight years of working six days a week, of being second-to-none in quality, in being among the leanest, most efficient plants in the world. They want to be recognized.”

While such an overwhelming strike mandate may not be unheard of at a small business or industry, with only a few workers voting, but to have more than 1,200 vote Sunday at Centennial Hall in London to strike is a staggering mandate from a large workforce.

Cami, in Ingersoll, has won a series of quality and efficiency awards and recently won a Harbour award for vehicle quality for its assembly of the Terrain crossover, production of which was shipped to Mexico.

That has rubbed salt in some wounds, added Van Boekel.

“The best word to describe the mood here now is frustration, it is very high. Workers feel there is no respect for the job they perform and how well they do it.”

Losing the assembly of a vehicle would be understandable if the vehicle was not selling, but the Terrain and the Equinox are hot sellers.

“Our products are doing well, the quality is No. 1, we have answered the bell.”

After announcing 625 layoffs in January, the company has in fact lost 424 after buyouts, retirements and some recalls reduced the total.

Although the two sides have met in committees this month, the union and GM Canada began formal talks Monday on site at the plant. Financial talks start next week off site in Woodstock.

GM Canada could not be reached for comment Monday.

“I think that is a very significant strike vote,” said Bill Murnighan, director of research for Unifor nationally.

“You never see numbers that high with that level of participation. It is very meaningful.”

The union does not track vote totals for strike votes but he agrees there have been 100 per cent votes of support at small shops, but never that high with large numbers voting.

“It is good timing considering we are talking about NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement),” said Murnighan.

“There is not a better example of what is wrong with NAFTA,” he said of losing production of a vehicle despite strong sales and top quality production.

Unifor Local 88, the union, wants higher wages, benefit improvements and an investment in the Ingersoll auto assembly plant in these talks.

The current contract expires Sept. 17.

GM Canada concluded talks with its other Unifor plants in September 2016. Those workers got wage increases, a higher starting wage for new hires and a signing bonus. It also pledged a new vehicle for its Oshawa assembly plant, and made 700 temporary jobs permanent.

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