North American Workers Battle Attacks On Rights And Jobs


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) joined thousands of Canadians opposing the Conservative budget in a mass online protest on Monday.

NUPGE joined with faith groups, trade unions, associations, businesses, First Nations, environment groups, human rights groups, pro-democracy groups and seniors, across the country, to say: ‘Silence is Not an Option’, as MPs considered a budget bill that will vastly transform environmental protections in the absence of transparent public discussion.

On Monday, June 4, the NUPGE website went black, sending a single, unified message to decision-makers: ‘Protect our Canadian values. Our land, water, and climate. Our communities. Our human rights and democracy.’

As part of the BlackOutSpeakOut campaign, the Canadian Union of Public employees (CUPE) also darkened its national website,, to ‘support the right of environmental groups to speak out, and to draw attention to the ways in which the proposed changes in the federal budget bill (Bill C-38) will weaken environmental rules and silence the voices of those who defend them.’

CUPE said: ‘A large number of Canadian organisations, charities, non-governmental organisations, unions and social groups have joined together to defend our rights.

‘This attack on environmental groups is part of a concerted attack by the Harper government to silence any alternative political voices.

‘The Harper government has consistently acted to silence opposing voices in society – including attacks on environmental groups, charitable organisations, labour voices and our rights to collectively bargain and to pursue political advocacy.

‘We have already spoken out about the gutting of the court challenges programme, which allowed marginalised groups to ask the courts to examine unfair laws.

‘We have spoken out about the politically motivated attacks on our partners working for global justice – at Rights and Democracy, at Kairos – all examples of the Harper agenda to silence dissent.

‘We have spoken out against these attacks because it is crucial that we stand together to protect our rights and oppose the dangerous prevailing attitude of the Harper government that if you’re not with us you’re against us.

‘Silence is not an option. Please join us in speaking out and demonstrating that Canadians from all walks of life will come together to defend core democratic principles.’

Meanwhile, Canadian Autoworkers union (CAW) President Ken Lewenza is calling the decision by General Motors (GM) to close the consolidated line in Oshawa short-sighted.

GM Canada confirmed last Friday, it will wind down one of its last two lines in Oshawa, starting as early as this autumn and GM will close the facility as of June 2013.

‘General Motors should instead be focusing on utilising its Canadian facilities as it seeks to further rebuild the company,’ said Lewenza.

‘The decision to close this very productive line and put 2,000 more workers out of a job is ill thought-out and could damage the company in the long run.

‘It is also a betrayal of the tremendous work and sacrifices by our members that went into keeping General Motors afloat in 2008-2009, when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy,’ he said.

‘It appears today that General Motors has a very short memory,’ said Lewenza.

A recent study by the Michigan-based Centre for Automotive Research found that General Motors may have to boost capacity in the coming years to keep pace with demand for vehicles.

Lewenza said this latest closure announcement flies in the face of what may actually be the best course of action for the company – using existing capacity well into the future.

The workers at the GM in Oshawa are represented by CAW Local 222.

GM said in a statement: ‘As previously announced, the Consolidated Line will cease at the end of (the) scheduled lifecycle for the current-generation Impala. This is currently anticipated to occur in June 2013.’

The consolidated line currently employs 2,000 people, the company said. That’s about half the company’s workforce in Oshawa.

It’s too early to say how many people will be affected by these ‘scheduling actions,’ the company said.

‘Some employees may elect to retire and others will be on indefinite layoff,’ the auto maker said in a statement.

The production changes will begin as early as this fall, starting with the third shift, the company said.

The second shift will be eliminated in the first three months of the New Year. And by June of 2013, the plant will be closed.

The CAW said it had hoped to overturn the company’s decision to close the plant.

But the company has said repeatedly it has no new product to put in the plant, CAW Local 222 President Chris Buckley said.

‘It’ll be devastating for thousands of workers,’ Buckley said, adding it’s not just the direct jobs in the plant that are affected but all the spinoff jobs as well.

GM has also announced action on the US Salaried Pension Plan.

General Motors Co. announced that it will provide select US salaried retirees a lump-sum payment offer whilst other retirees will continue monthly pension payments securely administered and paid by The Prudential Insurance Company of America, a Prudential Financial, Inc. company.

The retirement plan actions will result in an expected $26 billion reduction of GM’s US salaried pension obligation.

Approximately 42,000 salaried retirees and surviving beneficiaries will be eligible to receive a voluntary single lump-sum payment option.

GM plans to purchase a group annuity contract from Prudential under which Prudential will pay and administer future benefit payments to most of the remaining US salaried retirees.

The transactions are expected to be completed by the end of 2012, following completion of regulatory review.

Prudential would then assume responsibility for the benefits covered by the agreement and begin making the benefit payments in January 2013.

‘We appreciate the contributions our retirees have made to the company and we have taken great care in ensuring the security of their retirement benefits,’ claimed Cindy Brinkley, GM vice president of global human resources.

‘Many of our retirees will now have more flexibility to manage their retirement funds and we are confident that Prudential will provide outstanding service to those receiving a monthly payment.’

Approximately 118,000 US salaried retirees are impacted by these changes in different ways, depending on retirement date and eligibility.

Salaried retirees numbering 42,000 will be eligible for the lump-sum payment and will have until July 20, 2012 to make a decision on their payment options.

The eligibility and pension options for the majority of retirees are: Retired from GM on or after Oct. 1, 1997 and before Dec. 1, 2011.

Three choices: One-time, single lump-sum payment.

Continue with current monthly benefit, payable by Prudential.

New form of monthly benefit (based on marital status) – single life annuity or joint and survivor monthly benefit, payable by Prudential.

Retired from GM before Oct. 1, 1997: Continue with current monthly benefit, payable by Prudential.

Most active salaried employees and retirees who started receiving their pension benefits on or after Dec. 1, 2011: Moved into new GM pension plan with same benefits.

Lump-sum payment or monthly pension benefit available at retirement, payable by GM.