Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GM, CAW remain far apart, Lewenza says

Talks between General Motors and the Canadian Auto Workers union continued, but a deal was unlikely on Saturday, CAW president Ken Lewenza said.

Negotiations picked up again at a downtown Toronto hotel after a Friday midnight deadline passed without an agreement on cost concessions.

Both sides remain far apart, Lewenza told CBC News on Saturday evening.

Both the federal and Ontario governments are demanding that GM drastically cut costs to be eligible for billions of dollars in aid. In February, GM asked for $6 billion in loans from the two governments.

A June 1 deadline looms over the company to present its restructuring plans to government.

"We still have a lot of work to do, but the provincial and federal governments called us last night and suggested that they want a report no later than the latter part of this afternoon," Lewenza said Saturday morning.

"We're trying to get a deal so that we can at least report to them that the loans that they're providing General Motors are secure," he said.

'Tiny steps' seen

Lewenza said the teams bargained through the night and they're making "tiny steps of progress."

"We're going to keep hammering away and keep working at it and working at it until we get a result," he said.

The union said GM is pushing for more health-care cuts than the union gave Chrysler Canada, as well as cuts in pension benefits for future retirees.

No deal has been reached because the union believes the sacrifices being asked of the GM membership are "much more significant" than were asked of Chrysler Canada, Lewenza said.

Chrysler reached a deal with union members last month that cut the company's labour costs by $19 an hour per worker. GM is in an even worse financial position, in part due to a ballooning pension deficit.

A GM Canada spokesman wouldn't comment on details of Friday night's negotiations, saying only that there was "lots of hard work going on."