CAW Says Talks Intensify As GM Demands Pile Up

TORONTO (CP) -- Labor concession talks between General Motors of Canada and the Canadian Auto Workers have intensified, several days past a government-imposed deadline, as the union president said demands were getting out of hand.

CAW president Ken Lewenza said he expected talks to continue again Tuesday morning.

"We haven't made much progress, so we're still at it," Lewenza said. "No change since the last report -- we're still bargaining."

"We believe we've already made the sacrifices necessary, we believe we're close to our limit," Lewenza said in an interview.

"At the end of the day, sooner or later, we're not going to be able to go any further and we're close to that."

Teams bargained all through the long weekend aiming to strike a cost-cutting deal that will unlock $6 billion in assistance for the financially-troubled automaker.

Ottawa and the Ontario government allowed the parties to continue talking past Friday's midnight deadline, while also working behind the scenes to broker a deal.

Lewenza had said Monday afternoon that "tiny steps of progress" were being made, but saw no signs of an agreement being reached.

Still, he insisted that talks can't break down -- making his team feel like they "have a gun pointed to our head" -- because otherwise the company will be forced into filing for bankruptcy.

When negotiations resumed early Monday the two master committees met face-to-face before breaking off into smaller groups in an attempt to deal with the most pressing issues.

Pensions, benefits and wages continue to be the main points of contention, he said, especially because he feels the union has already made greater concessions than were asked of Chrysler.

Last month, Chrysler reached a deal with union members that cut the company's labour costs by $19 an hour.

But GM is in an even worse financial position largely due to a ballooning pension deficit.

On Monday Lewenza urged both the governments and the company to stop demanding more, step back and analyze the contributions CAW has now put on the table.

"We need to conclude these negotiations because our members are on the edge and the economy is on the edge the longer this goes on," he said.

And with talks now heating up between the United Auto Workers and GM's U.S. parent, Lewenza foresees greater pressure on his union, he added.

On account of the Victoria Day holiday, Lewenza said he wasn't expecting any "major decisions" around a deal to be made until Tuesday.

CAW members last ratified a deal with GM in March, less than a year after settling a three-year contract. While it provided the company with about $7 an hour in labour savings, the two governments almost immediately said it didn't do enough to cut costs.

Without a stringent deal, the worst-case scenario for GM would see the company's Canadian assets liquidated.

GM has until the end of May to provide governments in Canada and the United States with a restructuring plan that could include filing for bankruptcy protection.

GM Canada currently employs 7,500 hourly workers at a car plant in Oshawa, a transmission plant in Windsor and an engine plant in St. Catharines. It also operates the GM-Suzuki joint-venture CAMI plant in Ingersoll, also in southern Ontario.

A truck plant in Oshawa closed last Thursday and the Windsor transmission factory will be shut next year.

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