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Truck plant future foggy as contract talks down to the wire

CHATHAM, Ont. -- Navistar's offer to keep its Chatham, Ont. heavy truck plant open -- albeit barely -- is totally unacceptable, complains the head of the CAW.

Negotiations between the CAW and the Chicago-based truckmaker continued over the weekend with no resolution in sight. The two sides are looking to agree on a new contact to replace the one expiring tomorrow.

CAW President Ken Lewenza said the company's "refusal" to budge from its plans to downsize the plant to 100 workers -- letting go the 1,200 that are mostly on temporary layoff currently -- is making it "nearly impossible" to reach an agreement.

"This employer is demanding a significant reduction in employment at the plant which will have devastating consequences for our members," Lewenza said in a press release.

The union also claims that the company refused its offer to extend the current collective agreement beyond the June 30, 2009 expiry date and bring in a mediator.

Although CAW credits the company for backing off its proposal to force workers to convert their defined benefit-pension plan to a contribution or RRSP-type plan, there are several other demands that the union won't accept, including granting third party supplier clearance to perform bargaining unit work; reducing new hire compensation; and eliminating cost of living adjustments.

Navistar told CAW it will not immediately lock out workers should negotiations extend past the contract expiry date, but it's unknown whether the truckmaker intends to issue pink slips if the impasse continued for an extended period of time.

It's worth noting that the company did send out preliminary layoff notices to its entire staff, including mangers, weeks ago (as it's required to do so by Ontario when considering layoffs). 

Earlier this month, Navistar chairman and CEO Daniel Ustian set an ominous tone for the contact talks when he told the Wall Street Journal that the company would move at least some of Chatham's heavy-duty truck production to its Escobedo, Mexico plant. 

"Many of our suppliers have moved from the Midwest down into the Southwest and even into Mexico and that poses a challenge to our cost structure in Chatham," he said.

 
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SHAWN G MARCIL

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Our government and unions won't be happy until ALL our jobs are gone to Mexico. Hope your union can negotiate a good salary at the welfare office for you. S. Marcil

FRED LUDWIG

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Here's a good one for you ... The U.S. Steel plant in Nanticoke, Ontario, currently in a shutdwn mode with all but about 75 of 1500 workers laid off, is in negotiations with its union over their contract which expires at midnight July 31. The union is recommending the membership go on strike ... LOL. My question ... how do workers, currently on unemployment benefits, go on strike? Michael Ludwig, Ludwig Transport Limited. PS ... for future reference, any comments submitted indicating "F LUDWIG says:" are actually comments by Michael Ludwig (me).

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