DETROIT — General Motors Corp. has rebuffed an attempt by its Canadian union to win a reprieve for a pickup truck plant slated for shutdown, sticking to its contention that a shift in consumer attitudes has devastated demand for the vehicles.
A one-hour meeting in Detroit Friday between the company's senior executives and union leaders failed to produce any promise that the Oshawa, Ont., plant east of Toronto will remain open, dashing the hopes of the Canadian Auto Workers, which had hoped to find a compromise.
“We're walking away extremely disappointed. We still feel betrayed,” CAW president Buzz Hargrove said after the meeting with GM chief executive Rick Wagoner, chief financial officer Fritz Henderson and GM Canada president Arturo Elias.
“They're still saying that things changed radically enough that they can't live up to their commitment.”
The union contends the plant shutdown, which will put 2,600 employees out of work next year, violates a collective agreement signed in May, in which the union agreed to several concessions to maintain the jobs. It says the automaker promised that Oshawa would build a new generation of light-duty trucks to be introduced in 2011 in exchange for millions of dollars in labour cost reductions.
GM has said it is simply responding to dropping demand for pickup trucks made at the factory, in the wake of soaring gasoline prices that have made fill ups prohibitively expensive for owners of the Silverados and other half-ton trucks assembled in Oshawa.
GM Canada spokesman Stew Low said the company understands the union's disappointment, but maintained there was a “good exchange” in Detroit between the two sides at the meeting.
Mr. Low said the company did bargain in good faith because at the time of negotiations with the CAW it believed the shift in demand away from trucks was cyclical.
Data gathered since then, Mr. Low said, showed that it wasn't, and that the drop in demand accelerated “rapidly and dramatically”.
The meeting came on the third day of protests at GM's Canadian headquarters in Oshawa. Union local president Chris Buckley, who had warned the protest would escalate if the outcome isn't satisfactory, said Friday it will continue.
“It's tough on everybody but we'll get through this together,” said Mr. Buckley, who planned to return to Oshawa to speak with workers there.
At the blockade, Jim Freeman, 53, who has worked at the truck plant for 25 years, said he was surprised GM did not offer a solution that would have kept the factory open.
“Then, I guess, their request is denied to come into their building,” said Mr. Freeman.
“It shows you how heartless they are, right?” he said.
“They have no loyalty to employees that produce the best vehicles in the world.”
Mr. Hargove said the union will discuss its options after its national convention next week.
“We may go to the labour board, we may go to court, we may go to expedited arbitration, or we may take some other action,” he said following what he described as a “tense” meeting.
“It wasn't a great meeting. They had made up their minds going in.”
Under the labour agreement reached with GM, a plant in Oshawa will begin building a new Camaro sports car, along with a rear-wheel drive car. The contract also preserved one shift at the truck assembly factory in Oshawa until 2009.
But GM said this week that rising fuel prices have lessened demand for gas-guzzling pickup trucks much faster than expected and it would therefore have to stop truck production at the plant.
Mr. Hargrove said the union told GM it is not convinced that economic conditions changed so radically in such a short time.
He said Mr. Wagoner told the CAW he wants to work with the union to bring a possible third vehicle to the GM car plant in Oshawa “but the problem with that is it's difficult for us to get our minds around that when they've made a clear-cut commitment on the truck plant.”