Canadian workers at General Motors cast ballots on concession package

Anxious auto workers and retirees, some in tears, cast ballots in three southern Ontario communities Sunday on the latest labour concession package struck between their union and General Motors of Canada.

TORONTO — Anxious auto workers and retirees, some in tears, cast ballots in three southern Ontario communities Sunday on the latest labour concession package struck between their union and General Motors of Canada.

The tentative agreement, struck last week after days of tough bargaining talks between the company and Canadian Auto Workers, would slash labour costs by more than $8,000 per worker while protecting wages and pension benefits.

GM workers in the southern Ontario communities of Windsor, Woodstock and St. Catharines voted Sunday on the agreement while workers in Oshawa are to cast ballots on Monday.

“The St. Catharines meeting was very, very emotional. There were some retirees that were actually crying,” CAW President Ken Lewenza said Sunday in a telephone interview from St.Catharines following the vote.

“We certainly understand that because it’s been a very, very difficult three or four months.”

It’s the third set of negotiations between the GM and the CAW within the past year. Ottawa and Ontario has insisted on further cuts to labour costs for the automaker to get billions of dollars in taxpayer aid.

The vote comes just one week before a government-imposed deadline for GM to complete a restructuring plan or be forced into bankruptcy protection.

In Windsor, Walter Smith, who has been with company for 28 years, said he hopes this is the last time the workers have to vote on a cost cutting agreement.

“This is the third time and I think all we want to know is this going to stop, when is it going to stop?” said Smith after workers at GM’s transmission plant cast their ballots.

Overall however, Lewenza said the votes are bringing workers a sense of relief.

“When we talk to our retirees and talk about their existing pension funding at 39 per cent, and recognizing that this whole restructuring is going to improve that situation… and for active members, to think that you have a job and an opportunity to raise a family, with reasonably good income, even with the sacrifices,” he said.

The latest agreement, announced Friday, reduces hourly labour costs by between $15 and $16 per worker, on top of a $7-an-hour cut agreed to in March.

The deal also freezes pensions until 2015 and cuts benefit costs by more than $8,000 per worker — including a $3,500 payment to each worker to compensate for vacation time lost in collective bargaining a year ago.

Results of the votes at the four southern Ontario GM plants were not expected to be announced until Monday evening.

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