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Union at CAMI factory asks members to approve early contract talks

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Production of the General Motors' Chevrolet Equinox; Pontiac Torrent and the Suzuki XL7 at the CAMI Automotive facility in Ingersoll, Ontario, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006. The union representing workers at the General Motors plant in Ingersoll, Ont., is asking its members to approve an early opening of contract talks as the company weighs the future of two vehicles assembled at the factory.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

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The union representing workers at the General Motors plant in Ingersoll, Ont., is asking its members to approve an early opening of contract talks as the company weighs the future of two vehicles assembled at the factory.

However, automotive analyst Dennis DesRosiers suggested workers at the plant shouldn't be concerned even if production of the Equinox and Terrain is moved because GM will need the production capacity for something else.

"It would appear that they are short of capacity, that they need every single plant that they currently have in their system operating at full tilt," he said.

"I don't know what General Motors wants to do there — and who does it is a pure guess — but General Motors almost has no choice but to run CAMI as hot as they possibly can and they need it for the next four to six years."

Automakers posted their best sales in a decade last year, up almost six per cent, and the CAMI plant's two vehicles were strong sellers in GM's lineup.

"I see little downside threat. This is a smart move on both sides," DesRosiers said.

"The devil is in the details in these things, so who knows what could crater it all, but right now it looks pretty good."

The Canadian Auto Workers union said it would like to have a new deal at the CAMI Automotive plant ratified by March 24 to replace a contract that isn't set to expire until Sept. 16.

"We, as a bargaining committee, think it is the right thing to do," said Dan Borthwick, president of CAW local 88, which includes the workers at the CAMI plant.

The union's roughly 2,900 members will vote on the plan at a meeting on Feb. 10.

GM noted that it began contract talks early at CAMI in the last two rounds of bargaining.

"As the master agreement with the CAW was completed in September 2012, both CAMI and the CAW see the benefit of moving ahead with discussions sooner rather than later," the company said in a statement.

The CAMI plant, which has been operating six days a week with three shifts, produces the popular Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossover vehicles. However, the vehicles are expected to be refreshed for 2015 and it is not yet known where the new models will be produced.

GM announced late last year that it would move production of the new version of the Camaro from its plant in Oshawa, Ont., to one in Michigan. That announcement sparked outrage from the union, which has called on the company to ensure no jobs are lost as a result of the decision.

A new contract would give GM certainty about its labour costs at the CAMI plant ahead of that decision.

The CAW reached deals with the Big Three automakers covering most of its members last September.

Borthwick said the union will look to use those agreements as a pattern for the deal at the CAMI plant.

"We plan on achieving the pattern agreement as a minimum going forward," he said.

The deals in the fall lowered the starting wages for workers and extended the time it takes to reach the top of the pay scale.

The agreements also included no base wage increases.

The CAMI plant was a joint venture established by GM and Suzuki in 1986 and began production in 1989.

GM assumed full ownership of the factory in 2009.

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