Autoworkers brace for restructuring

Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza believes that the Canadian and U.S. governments aren’t doing enough to ensure the survival of the North American auto industry.

In a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday (Feb. 20), Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barak Obama reiterated their belief that Ottawa and Washington need to work together to manage the faltering auto industries in both countries.

Both General Motors and Chrysler recently submitted restructuring plans and Obama’s team is in the review process. But Obama admits that there will be some changes.

“One thing we know for certain is that there is going to have to be a significant restructuring of that industry,” he said.

The review of the restructuring plans is due no later than Mar. 30 and Lewenza said there are two possible outcomes: Two of North America’s ‘Big Three’ automakers are sustainable, or they are not.

While Harper and Obama seemed confident the industry will survive, Lewenza isn’t as optimistic.

“I’m incredibly worried (that it could be unsustainable),” he said. “There’s real anticipation today that vehicle sales in the United States for the next 12 to 14 months could be as low as 10 million (vehicles) and there’s not a business plan in place that provides for that decline.”

Previous totals have been as high as 18 million, and Lewenza believes that the industry just can’t cope with that kind of decline in sales in North America.

Lewenza says that the CAW has already provided significant savings to the Big Three in Canada, but that they remain committed to being part of the solution to the current problems. However, he went on to say that the problem isn’t necessarily labour costs in Canada, which he says are competitive around the world, but the worsening economic crisis.

Lewenza went on to say that the politicians should be focusing on the root problems of the North American auto industry, which he feels are unfair trading relationships with other countries. A statement Harper confirmed.

“If we pursue stimulus packages, the goal of which is only to benefit ourselves…we will deepen the world recession, not solve it,” he said.

Filed by Will Senn