Workers at the CAMI Automotive factory in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada are on strike for job security.
The workers, members of Unifor Local 88, want guarantees in their new collective bargaining agreement that General Motors, which owns CAMI, will designate the Ingersoll plant as the lead producer of the Chevrolet Equinox.
The Equinox is a popular mid-sized crossover SUV, and right now the CAMI factory in Ingersoll is its primary producer.
But there is concern among the 2500 Unifor members on strike that GM plans to shift more production of Equinox to Mexico.
Unifor is the largest private sector union in Canada, and Jerry Dias, Unifor’s president, says that the outcome of the strike is important not only for the CAMI workers but for the community of Ingersoll.
“These workers are standing up for good jobs. Not just for themselves, but for the entire community,” said Dias.
Dias also said that the impasse between GM and the CAMI workers “reveals significant flaws in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).”
The strike began on September 17 after the current collective bargaining agreement expired.
In a strike authorization vote that took place in August, 99.8 percent of Local 88 members voted to authorize a strike if the bargaining committee and GM couldn’t reach an agreement that would ensure that Ingersoll remains the lead producer of the Equinox.
Workers were concerned because in July GM moved production of the GMC Terrain, another crossover SUV similar to the Equinox, from Ingersoll to Mexico.
That move resulted in the layoff of 600 workers at the Ingersoll plant.
Dias in a message to Unifor members said that the strike at CAMI is bringing the troubles caused by NAFTA into clear focus.
“As Canadian, Mexican and American negotiators gather in Ottawa this weekend to begin the third round of talks toward a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement, the problems with the deal identified by the labor movement over the years are playing out right now in Ingersoll,” writes Dias.
The promise was that NAFTA was supposed to benefit workers as well as business, writes Dias, but instead NAFTA has only benefited business.
As a result of NAFTA, “we’ve seen manufacturing leave Canada for places such as Mexico” where “workers still work for poverty wages,” writes Dias.
NAFTA promised a better life for workers, continues Dias, but all that it has delivered is more poverty in Mexico and stagnant wages and more insecurity in Canada and the US.
Because of NAFTA, more auto factories are being built in Mexico, but despite the influx of auto factories, the minimum wage in Mexico remains at 65 cents an hour. “Mexican workers can’t even afford to buy the cars built in their country,” writes Dias.
As GM takes advantage of NAFTA to move work like the production of the Terrain to low-wage Mexico, the pangs of insecurity have increased at the CAMI plant.
Dias said that the CAMI workers’ demand for some job security is not unreasonable. They’re not asking that the Ingersoll plant be the only factory where the Equinox is made but rather that the Ingersoll plant remain the main site where the popular SUV is made.
Local 88 members want GM to look beyond the bottom line and realize how important the workers’ demand for job security is.
“They just want to know that their livelihoods, the stability of their communities, and the prospect of a decent future for their children will not be lost to cheaper labor made available by trade deals that failed to take these needs into full consideration,” writes Dias.
There is more at stake than just the well-being of CAMI workers. There are a network of smaller business in Ingersoll that supply auto parts to CAMI and services to people who work at the plant.
“(The strike) affects everyone,” Lori Perkins, who works at a plant across the street that supplies CAMI, told the CBC. “From our fast food people to our grocery store to what we can afford. It affects everybody.”
Formal negotiations between Unifor and GM broke off when the strike began, but resumed on September 24.
Local 88 President Dan Borthwick told Automotive News that the workers’ main demand has remained unchanged.
“We need job security and to be named the lead producer (of the Equinox),” said Borthwick.