CAW may give strike notice to GM soon

GM’s offer falls short on job security, says Lewenza
By Allison Martell
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 09/20/2012

(Reuters) — The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union will serve General Motors with 24-hour strike notice as early as Thursday afternoon if the two sides cannot work through current sticking points in their labour contract talks, the head of the union said.

"If we can't narrow the differences to a respectful conversation in the next hour or so, I'm going to call the bargaining committee back and get authorization to give strike notice," said national president Ken Lewenza.

"The company offered a proposal this morning, which did not meet the pattern established at Ford," Lewenza said on the sidelines of meetings taking place between the CAW and automakers at a hotel in Toronto.

GM disagreed.

"Following extensive meetings and dialogue, General Motors of Canada has delivered a proposal to the CAW that meets pattern on all elements of the Ford agreement," company spokeswoman Adria Mackenzie said in an email.

The union, which represents some 20,000 workers at the Detroit Three, had hoped for quick agreements with GM and Fiat SpA's Chrysler after reaching a tentative contract agreement with Ford on Sept. 17.

The Ford deal sets a framework for talks with GM and Chrysler in a process called pattern bargaining, a long-standing union strategy meant to ensure that no company has a labour cost advantage over the others.

Earlier in the week, the GM talks appeared to be making good progress, although talks with Chrysler seemed to be lagging.

But Lewenza said GM's offer on Thursday fell short on employee security issues, as well as on a two-tier wage system, under which new workers are paid at a lower initial rate than existing workers.

On the two-tier wage sticking point, Lewenza said the union wants to get rid of GM's supplementary workforce employees, known as SWEs. SWEs are temporary workers employed by GM at lower wages, usually at times of new product launches.

Meanwhile, at Chrysler, there were "good discussions, good dialogue," CAW secretary-treasurer Peter Kennedy said on Thursday morning.

An unprecedented simultaneous strike at all three automakers was averted on Monday when the agreement was reached with Ford hours before a strike deadline. The union then promised to give 24 hours' notice before any strike, which it would call if talks were not making enough progress.

At GM, talks are complicated by the "consolidated line" at the company's Oshawa, Ont., assembly plant, which is set to shut down in June 2013. The line employs about 2,000 workers, nearly a quarter of the CAW's workforce at GM.

Workers at Ford's assembly plant in Oakville, Ont., and two engine plants in Windsor and Essex, also both in Ontario, will vote on the tentative agreement this weekend.

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