'Some progress' made as contract talks resume between GM and striking workers

TORONTO _ Bargaining talks have resumed between General Motors and more than 2,500 striking workers at a southern Ontario automotive assembly plant.

Negotiations initially broke down shortly after the employees of the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., walked off the job on Sept. 17, but union officials say both sides returned to the table on Tuesday.

Dan Borthwick, president of Unifor Local 88 representing the workers, declined to discuss the issues currently being hashed out or to indicate how the talks are proceeding.

A previously issued statement indicated “some progress” had been made since the union submitted a detailed proposal on the weekend, but Borthwick said he could not comment further while talks were underway.

“We’re sitting with the company having further discussions trying to resolve our outstanding issues to end the labour dispute,” he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Borthwick also declined to expand on the contents of Unifor’s proposal to the automaker, other than to say it focused on three long-standing issues _ job security, economic concerns and contract language.

The union has argued the CAMI plant should be designated as the lead producer of the Chevrolet Equinox sport utility vehicle, currently the only product built at the facility.

The plant already sustained a loss of more than 400 jobs when GM shifted production of its Terrain SUV from Ingersoll to Mexico earlier this year.

The issue of job security, and its impact on plants like the one in Ingersoll, has been raised at another high-profile bargaining table in recent days.

The exodus of automotive jobs from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico has prompted Canada to address the subject as part of its labour standards proposal during efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Canada wants enforceable, progressive labour standards to be included in a rewritten NAFTA that would force Mexico to pay workers higher wages and do away with so-called “yellow” unions that represent employers rather than employees.

Minimum wage in the Mexican automotive sector currently stands at 65 cents per hour, a situation that has caused alarm among Canadian and U.S. officials as manufacturers relocate their operations, taking quality jobs and investment dollars with them.

Unifor has said Canada should walk away from the NAFTA negotiations entirely if it can’t make headway on the issue, since it has already cost so many jobs.

The 10-day old CAMI strike has already had a ripple effect on other Canadian companies.

Days after work stopped at the plant, General Motors laid off at least 255 of the 350 workers at its facility in neighbouring St. Catharines, Ont., which supplies about 90 per cent of the transmissions used at CAMI.

Additionally, auto parts maker Magna International (TSX:MG) announced it would stop supplying components to the CAMI plant, a decision it said would affect output at a few of its facilities in Ontario. The company did not provide further details.