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CAW blasts idea of more concessions

Re-entering labour talks with General Motors would hurt the credibility of the CAW

Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza reiterated Wednesday
that the union will not re-enter labour negotiations with General
Motors and said doing so would hurt the union's credibility.

Speaking
to reporters after a luncheon speech to the Economic Club of Toronto,
Lewenza said the CAW reached an agreement with GM that makes the
company's Canadian operations competitive with both its U.S. operations
and non-unionized plants in both countries.

"Going lower makes no sense and quite frankly we're not going to destroy the integrity of the union to do that," he said.

Earlier
this week, governments in the United States and Canada said GM and
Chrysler hadn't met the requirements for long-term bailout loans,
saying more concessions were needed from unions, creditors and others
before restructuring plans could be approved.

In Canada, the
federal and Ontario governments demanded that the CAW head back to the
bargaining table with GM even though the two parties reached a new
labour agreement three weeks ago - less than a year after CAW members
ratified a three-year labour contract which they say saves the
automaker $300 million.

"For the second time in 10 months, we've
bargained an agreement with General Motors that they've seen as
acceptable and competitive, ratified by our members, and going a third
time makes no sense whatsoever," Lewenza said.

That deal was signed before Richard Wagoner was forced to resign as president and chief executive of GM Canada's parent company.

But
General Motors' new chief executive, Fritz Henderson, said Tuesday in a
conference call that the new Canadian agreement achieves the company's
goals of labour competitiveness with its U.S. plants and other
non-unionized plants in both countries.

However, Honda Motor Co.,
which has two non-unionized assembly plants in Alliston, Ont., said
Tuesday night that it is offering voluntary buyouts, cutting workers'
pay and imposing 13 non-production days at its North American plants to
reduce output.

Lewenza questioned whether the CAW would now be expected to agree to cut labour costs ever further.

"Are
we supposed to follow that? You can't do that. You have to bargain with
integrity, you have to bargain with respect and you have to bargain
with credibility and that's what we did at GM," he said.

The
union has so far been unable to reach a deal with Chrysler, insisting
that the pattern established with General Motors should be good enough
for both companies.

Lewenza said the union even offered
"additional operational and productivity change in that deal, to
sweeten the pot for Chrysler" last week, but its offer was rejected.

Bill
Pochiluk of industry adviser AutomotiveCompass said Chrysler's minivan
plant in Windsor, Ont., is in "serious jeopardy" if the CAW isn't able
to reach a deal with the troubled automaker.

Chrysler owns a
shuttered minivan plant in St. Louis which it could move production to
if it can't negotiate an acceptable deal with the union on time.

"I
think the hope that they had for a patterned settlement has now turned
out to be unrealistic," Pochiluk said. "It's going to have to be
moulded to the individual situation if our intent is to keep Canadian
jobs."

The union will also renegotiate its labour agreement with Ford, although that company has not asked for government aid.

In
his speech, Lewenza renewed the union's call for a new continental auto
pact that would force Asian and other offshore carmakers "to add as
much value in North America as they sell here."

He also
emphasized the union's contention that labour costs have little to do
with the companies' troubles and its members "could work for free for a
year, and it might prolong the life of GM or Chrysler by a week."

The
difficulties faced by the Canadian auto industry have been underscored
in recent months by unprecedented sales slumps in both Canada and the
U.S., where Canadian plants ship the majority of their finished
vehicles.

However, the plunge in sales slowed in March to a decline of 15 per cent from a year earlier.

Analyst
Dennis DesRosiers noted that this is negative but nevertheless "is a
significant improvement from the last few months when sales were down
in the mid-20 per cent range."

Chrysler Canada saw a decline of
nearly 27 per cent, while General Motors Canada saw its sales fall by
about 17 per cent compared with March 2008.

In the U.S., Chrysler's sales dropped 39 per cent while GM's plunged by 45 per cent.

 
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