Unifor head urges feds to give GM ‘the middle finger’ with tariffs over Oshawa plant closure
The announcement by General Motors on Monday to leave Oshawa after more than a century of business — and billions in combined federal and provincial bailout dollars — is equivalent to giving Canadian workers “the middle finger.”
And so Unifor head Jerry Dias says the government needs to give it right back.
“We’re playing with a corporation that plays by their own rules so we have to have governments that are going to play by very strict rules as well. If you have a company that’s going to show us the middle finger, we need a government that will show them the middle finger too,” Dias told reporters in a press conference following a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday.
During that press conference, Dias repeatedly urged the government to threaten imposing steep new tariffs on any vehicles General Motors might try to export to Canada from its plants in Mexico — including those up to 40 per cent.
But when asked how Trudeau could do that while criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump’s own use of tariffs such as those on steel and aluminum as bargaining tools, Dias brushed off questions about legality.
“People can argue that somehow jeez, you might be flirting with legalities. Don’t care,” he said. “We’re dealing with a corporation that doesn’t have any respect for Canadian and American workers.”
The remarks by Dias come as federal, provincial and municipal politicians grapple with how to address the decision by General Motors to close the plant.
That move will leave 2,500 workers out of a job by December 2019.
General Motors billed the move as part of a global restructuring towards a larger focus on electric and autonomous vehicles.
In addition to the plant in Oshawa, assembly plants in Detroit and Warren, Ohio, will also close.
Propulsion plants in Maryland and Warren, Mich., are also slated to close, as is a previously-announced pending closure of a plant in South Korea.
Trudeau has vowed to work with partners to try and staunch the flow of jobs, while Premier Doug Ford has promised to introduce rapid job training to help affected workers find new work quickly.
U.S. President Donald Trump, however, took to Twitter to threaten the company with loss of subsidies if it goes ahead with the plant closures.
“The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get! We are now looking at cutting all @GM subsidies, including electric cars,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
The tweet referenced a 2009 auto bailout worth $60 billion from the United States, Canada and the Province of Ontario.
In the midst of the Great Recession, General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection and was deemed too big to fail.
To keep the company and fellow auto giant Chrysler from going under, the parties to the bailout gave a combined $60 billion in loans.
Roughly $10.8 billion of that went specifically to General Motors from the Canadian and Ontario government, which got an 11.7 per cent equity stake in the company in return and then sold its shares in 2015.
The bailout dollars were used to fund corporate restructuring and continue company operations at the time.
Yet there appears to be no strings attached to those funds that have not already been met.
“Supporting the restructuring in 2008-09 was primarily about avoiding the collapse of Canada’s automotive industry in the midst of the broader global financial crisis,” said Danielle Keenan, press secretary for Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains.
“As part of the 2008-2009 bailout, Canada benefited from a series of covenants related to production, capital expenditures and R&D. These commitments ran through to the end of 2016.”
Keenan also noted that since that bailout, “there has been no additional support given to General Motors.”
Bains said on Monday he was “deeply disappointed” by the closure and that the government is considering “all options.”
But there is little detail at this point about what that could mean.
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