Some 36,000 General Motors of Canada workers went on...


TORONTO -- Some 36,000 General Motors of Canada workers went on strike Wednesday for the first time in 14 years, closing 13 plants at the country's largest automaker and threatening layoffs in the parent firm's U.S. operations.

Robert White, Canadian director of the United Auto Workers, said union and company negotiators were far apart in their positions and held out little hope of a quick settlement.


The walkout officially began at noon EDT Wednesday and idled operations at 13 plants in Ontario and Quebec, although a wildcat strike erupted Tuesday night at GM Canada's plant in Oshawa, Ont.

GM Canada's chief negotiator, Rod Andrews, said the work stoppage would force layoffs and shutdowns in the parent company's U.S. operations that rely on parts from Canadian factories. He did not provide specifics. In a statement released in Detroit, GM said the Canadian strike would begin to affect operations at U.S. plants by the end of this week or early next, with at least nine plants that would be threatened with closure.


The plants include those building full-size, rear-wheel drive cars in Flint and Detroit, Mich.; Fairfax, Kan. and Wilmington, Del. Also to be affected would be facilities producing full-sized front-wheel drive cars in Orion, Mich. and Wentzville, Mo., and those building compacts in Ypsilanti and Lansing, Mich. The Lordstown, Ohio, van plant would also have to shut down.

He said he did not have an estimate of the number of workers who would be idled in the event of shutdowns at the plants.

'They will be affected first because vehicles require one or more parts made in Canada and are in short supply,' said GM spokesman John Mueller, who added there would be related layoffs 'at components plants and at non-GM supplier plants. This could have a detrimental effect on earnings of workers at those plants at GM.'

Mueller noted several GM vehicles are built only in Canada, including the Pontiac 6000, Grand Prix and Bonneville. The last strike at GM Canada, sparked mainly by a battle over cost-of-living provisions, was in 1970 and lasted 94 days.

White said negotiators from both sides were discussing local plant issues, such as working conditions, but added that wide differences remained in major areas.


'This is General Motors' strike,' he told a crowded news conference an hour before the official walkout. 'General Motors is trying to change the traditional path of collective bargaining we have had for 25 years.'

At the center of the dispute is GM Canada's push to negotiate the same type of contract the parent company signed with UAW members in the United States and the Canadian union's demands for restoration of salary concessions made in 1982.

Instead of providing for traditional annual wage increases that are included in the calculation of benefits, the company's 350,000 U.S. workers last weekend accepted a first year wage hike and lump sum payments in the second and third years that would not trigger higher benefits.

GM Canadian workers are demanding the reinstatement of 3 percent annual wage increases and improvements in cost-of-living allowances and pensions. In 1982, they agreed to a freeze on wages and deferal of some cost of living payments,

White charged GM Canada's latest contract offer would hike base pay but strip workers of some benefits.

'I call it collective bargaining with smoke and mirrors. You get it in one hand but you have to pay it back with the other,' he said.


Andrews said the company had offered a package containing wage and benefit increase in excess of $10,000 per worker over three years, with a maximum level of $12,000. He said the automaker could not offer more because of the fluctuating nature of the industry.

'We made an offer that is very attractive to the members,' he said. 'I am very sad for the stoppage. I think it hurts everyone.'

A GM Canada assembler now earns $13.07 per hour, which includes a base salary of $9.63 plus a $3.44 hourly cost-of-living allowance.

The UAW had also been negotiating on a new contract with Ford Motor Co. of Canada but recessed the talks pending the outcome of the GM Canada dispute.

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