Canada Union Head Vows UAW Support
BRIAN S. AKRE
Jun. 23, 1998
LAS VEGAS (AP) _ The head of the Canadian Auto Workers union promised his U.S. counterparts Tuesday that General Motors Corp. workers in Canada will refuse to handle strike-related parts in assembling GM's new pickups.
The hoods, fenders, doors and other body parts at issue are from dies that GM removed from the Flint Metal Center stamping plant during Memorial Day weekend in anticipation of labor problems there. The move angered the United Auto Workers and contributed to the union's decision to strike there June 5.
The parts were taken to GM's stamping plant near Mansfield, Ohio. They are to be used to make parts for the automaker's redesigned full-size pickup _ a crucial product in one of the industry's hottest and most profitable segments. GM's big pickup is its best-selling vehicle.
Production of the 1999 models began earlier this month at GM's Oshawa, Ontario, plant, but in initially low numbers as workers gear up for full production. GM stocked up some parts there to ensure the launch of the new model proceeded smoothly. The CAW has said GM has not tried to use stampings from the Flint dies yet and may not for several more weeks.
In fact, a lack of parts from the strike-idled Delphi Flint East plant in Flint could cause the Oshawa plant to halt production before any showdown over the dies can occur, said a company source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Buzz Hargrove, president of the 215,000-member Canadian union, had warned earlier that his union would refuse to handle the parts. He made it formal Tuesday in an unscheduled speech to the UAW's 32nd constitutional convention.
Saying he wanted ``to send a message to Jack Smith,'' GM's chairman and chief executive, Hargrove said the Canadian union remembered the UAW's support when it struck GM during national contract talks in 1996.
``We're going to repay that same kind of solidarity, as I say to General Motors: Any work that comes to Canada off the dies that were moved out of Flint will not be handled by our workers in our plants in Canada.''
Such a move would be illegal under Canadian law, which limits the union from taking such actions only during national contract negotiations. The CAW and UAW national contract talks begin in summer 1999. Hargrove implied that won't stop the CAW if the Flint dies become an issue at Oshawa.
``We experienced the same tactic by General Motors during our strike when they tried to take the tools and dies out of our fabrication plant,'' Hargrove said. ``And we took over the plant and we stopped it. And the General Motors Corporation said it's an illegal act that we're performing and they threatened to sue me personally and our union. And I told 'em to get in line.''
Hargrove, one of the union movement's best orators, was well-received by the UAW delegates _ especially those from Flint.
``It's definitely going to rise our spirits,'' said Duane Zuckschwerdt, president of Local 659 in Flint. ``That's also going to send General Motors a very strong signal.''
GM spokesman Gerry Holmes said the company would not comment on Hargrove's remarks. The automaker said on June 10 that it would return the dies to Flint after the strikes are over.
Negotiations continued Tuesday in Flint, but there was no progress, Zuckschwerdt said. The strikes by about 9,200 workers have led to the layoffs of about 142,600 other GM workers at 26 assembly plants and about 100 parts plants across North America.
Hargrove also took a jab at Donald Hackworth, the GM vice president who has led the company's public attack on the union's position in Flint.
``Don Hackworth has given new meaning to `have gun will travel,' Hargrove said. ``The new slogan at General Motors obviously is `have dies, will travel.'
``But don't _ don't _ underestimate our determination to ensure that the Flint membership gets a fair and decent settlement.''
Hargrove rejected GM's position that changes are needed to make the Flint factories more efficient so the world's largest automaker is better able to compete globally. The UAW has said GM wants to change contract language that it just approved a year ago. It also cites a long list of health and safety concerns and grievances.
``It's not about globalization in Flint, Michigan,'' Hargrove said. ``It's greed that's driving General Motors.''
GM said Tuesday that it had sent a memo to its managers asking for suggestions on ways to cut discretionary spending to conserve cash during the strikes.
``It's just an effort to preserve cash so we don't have to interrupt any of our future product programs,'' Holmes said. The memo suggests looking at cuts in such things as overtime, outside consultants, and non-essential travel.
House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt was applauded when he told convention delegates that congressional Democrats would fight for an another increase in the minimum wage this year.
``If we are to call ourselves a moral society, we need to raise the minimum wage and we need to do it now,'' he said.