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A cold, dark day

Union promises to fight as GM assembly plant pegged to close

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The City of Oshawa was dealt a heavy blow today as General Motors announced operations at the local assembly plant would cease at the end of 2019.

Rumours of the closure began rumbling the afternoon of Sun., Nov. 25 and were confirmed during a media conference held in Detroit, Michigan.

Unifor Canada president Jerry Dias speaks at a media conference held after General Motors announced its Oshawa assembly plant would be ceasing operations at the end of 2019. Dias told those in attendance the company would not close the plant “without one hell of a fight.” (Photo by Chris Jones)

Oshawa joins assembly plants in that city and Warren, Ohio on the chopping block.

Propulsion plants in Michigan and Maryland will close next year as well.

Generals Motors chairman and CEO Mary Barra said these actions, along with initiatives, are needed to “continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future.”

“We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success,” Barra stated.

Workers, union reps and local politicians all expressed disbelief at the decision.

“I don’t know where I’m going to end up. It’s kind of wait and see,” a worker told media as he left the plant Monday morning.

He added they had been told due to market trends, people were buying more trucks than cars. “[The Oshawa assembly plant] has basically become a fatality of people buying more trucks now in Ontario,” he explained.

Most workers dispersing into the parking lot off Park Road South had little to say.

One man, who did not give his name, said he had been at the plant for 30 years.

He admitted he was not totally surprised by the news.

“Not to me. But it still hurts and I really feel for the younger people who have families and mortgages.”

“Right now I’m going to home to my family and my kids, and hope for the best,” he added.

Later in the morning, Unifor members set up blockades at a number of entrances to the plant.

Employee Bill Kudla said he was indeed shocked the plant would be closing.

“There was no notice. We were actually anticipating something positive,” he explained.

Kudla says the Oshawa plant had been running very efficiently and productively, which added to his disbelief.

“Everything General Motors has asked us to do the last three years we’ve done it, and we expected something positive, and we get this kick in the head,” he says.

General Motors began production of Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra earlier this year, adding a second shift in June.

To Kudla, this was an indication that things were going well.

“The truck production they brought here, they weren’t really sure it was going to work and we got it up and running faster than any other changeover ever, and at a really high quality off the bat,” he says.

Plant workers set up a number of blockades a few hours after walking off the job. (Photo by Dave Flaherty)

The announcement coming just a month before Christmas adds insult to injury, Kudla says.

“It’s crap. It’s horrible. There’s been a lot of overtime. If people have saved and planned, they may be okay,” he said. “But some of the new employees went out and said ‘I got a great job, and lots of overtime, I’m going to buy a house and new car,’ and now they got all these loans and debts that they won’t be able to pay.”

During a meeting later in the afternoon, Unifor national president Jerry Dias was clear workers wouldn’t take the decision laying down.

“They are not closing our damn plant without one hell of a fight,” Dias said.

However, he stated they would need help.

“We’re going to need the federal government, we’re going to need the provincial government, but most of all we’re going to need Canadians to say ‘we are not going to support a company that doesn’t support Canadians.’”

Mayor and regional chair-elect John Henry said his mindset is “one of shock”.

“Like the weather, it’s just a sad, dark, cold day,” Henry said Monday afternoon.

The mayor recalled only a few weeks prior celebrating the 100th anniversary of General Motors in Oshawa and wondered how long this had been in the works.

“Something like this doesn’t happen overnight. I’m concerned about every family that has a member working in the plant,” he says.

However, Henry says it is a “bigger story than just cars and trucks being built in Oshawa.”

“It has bigger effects. This will affect how things are done in cottage country for people who own a cottage. People who have been in the plant for 10 years, or maybe less, are going to question their future.”

Henry says there are many questions that will need to be answered in time.

Oshawa MP Colin Carrie shared his dismay.

“It was a surprise and I would say shock. To hear something like this today, if what they say is true, it’s devastating,” Carrie told The Oshawa Express.

To him, the decision will have a widespread negative effect.

“This is about people. Not only the union and salaried employees but all the associated business and the businesses that rely on GM workers,” Carrie says. “This is going to send shockwaves not only through our community but all of Ontario.”

He said when General Motors’ plants burned down in the past it was the city that lent them money to continue on. He also referenced assistance provided by the federal and       provincial governments after the recession of 2008.

“Through all the difficult times and whenever they needed help,” Carrie said, adding the closure is “extremely disrespectful to all the people and taxpayers” for those reasons.

Oshawa MPP Jennifer French was blindsided by the news.

“We’ve invested our blood, sweat and commitment to this company. They just washed their hands of us and said thanks for the memories. That is really hard to take.”

She supports the view that this story has not seen its final chapter.

“Oshawa is not known to back down from a fight,” she states.

However, if GM eventually does leave Oshawa, steps need to be taken to avoid a     similar situation not just here, but across the country.

“If we do indeed lose GM, and we do lose these thousands and thousands of jobs, all levels of government need have to look at how to prevent them from happening again,” French said.