GM CAMI workers fear 'tough' year ahead

The global computer chip shortage is becoming an increasing source of stress for 1,600 unionized workers at GM CAMI in Ingersoll, Ont.

In 2021, most have only worked three weeks.

“The next 12 months is going to be pretty tough,” states Unifor Local 88 Plant Chair Mike Van Boekel.

He says his members are beginning to take other jobs in the service industry as dates to restart the assembly line keep being extended. The most recent, announced yesterday, dashes hopes of a September return.

“So right now the earliest we’d be back is Oct. 4 And right now we’ve been down since Feb. 7, other than a three-week period in June. So, it’s been a long haul for members in our plant.” says Van Boekel.

While 70 unionized workers remain in the plant, the global shortage of integrated circuits used in everything from cars to video game consoles is worsening.

Van Boekel says GM has told his union it is beyond their control.

“It’s the tier-two and tier-three suppliers, Malaysia and other countries, that are really getting hit with COVID really hard now, either their fourth or fifth wave, and they just can’t get going.”

And neither can CAMI suppliers, many of which are based in southwestern Ontario.

Still, even as some of his members stress about employment benefits expiring, Van Boekel remains confident GM will resume building Chevrolet Equinox vehicles six days a week, before the year is out.

“I do believe at some point in 2021 we’ll run steady until they decide ok that’s the end of it and we’ll start with the Bright Drops.”

The Bright Drops are the all new electric delivery vehicle the CAMI plant will be retooled to build at some point in 2022.

Van Boekel says a deadline for their production has been set, adding, “They are going to start producing them in the spring in low numbers, just to get the bugs out, but we are going to get going in the third quarter next year.”

GM has promised at least two shifts will be working on the new vehicle, but in the interim, Van Boekel admits some of his members remain concerned.

He wants to assure them, even if the chip shortage does not fully ease, some Equinox vehicles will be produced in Ingersoll, Ont. before the conversion to the Bright Drop EV takes place.

That would be good news for his members who, under the terms of their collective agreement, will receive a pay raise effective Sept. 20. Van Boekel acknowledges, first they need to be recalled.