Unifor ratifies GM deal that includes $787M retool for electric van production

Unifor members ratified a three-year contract with General Motors that includes a $787 million (C$1 billion) investment commitment at CAMI Assembly in Ingersoll, Ontario, to begin building all-electric delivery vans later this year.

According to a post on Unifor Local 88’s website, 91 per cent of CAMI workers who voted cast a ballot in favor of the new contract. Among production workers, 94 per cent voted in favor of the deal, while 65 per cent of skilled trades workers did so.

“The stakes going into these negotiations were high with the Equinox program ending, and there wasn’t a time during these difficult negotiations that we were not thinking about our members and their families, and we are grateful to all the members for their solidarity as we worked to ensure our plant is viable,” Mike Van Boekel, chair of Unifor’s Master Bargaining Committee, said in a statement.

The ratification caps off a surprise round of bargaining, which occurred months before the prior contract was set to expire in September. Unifor and GM had quietly begun negotiations on Jan. 4 and announced plans for the investment in CAMI Friday night.

The investment plans, which are contingent upon government support, would allow for production of GM’s new EV600 all-electric commercial van to start later this year. Work at CAMI would begin immediately, GM said.

“This is the result of collaboration with the Ontario and federal governments, and General Motors,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said in a statement.

A request for comment from GM Canada was not immediately returned.

GM, looking to stake a claim in the commercial vehicle segment, is eager to begin production of the EV600 as part of its new BrightDrop commercial EV business, unveiled last week during CES. FedEx, which ordered 500 EV600s from GM, is lined up to be BrightDrop’s first customer.

The automaker sees demand for parcel, food delivery and reverse logistics surging in the next several years. GM, citing the World Economic Forum, anticipates demand for urban delivery to fulfill e-commerce orders growing by 78 percent by 2030, leading to a 36-per-cent increase in the number of delivery vehicles in the world’s 100 largest cities.

BrightDrop, which will also sell an electric pallet called the EP1, will initially operate in the United States and Canada.

Dias on Saturday told Automotive News Canada that production would begin to ramp up at CAMI in November of this year, with “full production” of the EV600 starting in February 2022. Equinox production at CAMI would be phased out in 2023, he said. 

According to a Unifor highlights brochure posted on its website Sunday, “other variants” of GM’s all-electric commercial vehicle program are “currently under study.” 

Dias said he anticipated employment levels at the plant under the life of the new contract would be comparable to today’s figures, though he said GM could hire more workers in late 2023 and 2024 if “things go well based off the demographics of the plant and based on volume.” About 1,900 workers are currently employed at CAMI, according to the union.

It was not clear how large full EV600 production volume at CAMI would be or how it would compare with Equinox production. Workers at the plant built 160,858 Equinox crossovers in 2020, according to the Automotive News Data Center.

CAMI is on a separate contract from GM Canada’s other unionized plants, which were covered during bargaining in 2020. The new CAMI contract expires on Sept. 17, 2024. 

It includes wage increases, C$11,250 in bonuses and a two-year reduction in the 10-year wage grow-in period for new hires, among other provisions.

According to the Unifor fact sheet, GM and the union “engaged in extensive discussions regarding volume and staffing forecasts and projections” during bargaining. Unifor said it “expressed concern regarding the future staffing needs of the skilled trades workforce” and how it would be impacted by the transition away from the Equinox to the EV600.

According to the union, GM and Unifor agreed to meet 60 days before the start of a “temporary layoff required to support the launch” of the EV600. It was not clear when and for how long the layoff would take place.

According to GM, the EV600 will have about 250 miles of range on a full charge, nearly double what the Ford E-Transit gets. Ford has long dominated the large-van market, though competition is expected to grow as new offerings from GM, Mercedes-Benz and Rivian come online.

This story will be updated.

Hannah Lutz contributed to this report.