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Green Jobs Oshawa petitioning for GM to open plant

Grassroots organization wants GM to make PPE for frontline workers

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Green Jobs Oshawa has created a petition calling for General Motors to reopen the Oshawa plant to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The petition is asking for the federal and provincial governments to use emergency powers to open the currently idle GM plant to help make personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic surges in Ontario and Canada, we must ensure that our health care system is not overwhelmed and that all necessary medical equipment, PPE and related supplies are provided. The best way to ensure a secure supply is to manufacture it here,” reads the petition.

The organization has two demands in their petition: First, for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and/or Premier Doug Ford to issue an order for the plant to immediately begin the production of PPE in the plant.

The second demand is to use the reopening of the plant as a first step towards establishing a “Crown Corporation” in the vacant 90 per cent of the plant to provide a secure source of necessary medical products, as well as other future needs.

When the petition reaches enough signatures, it will be emailed to Trudeau, Ford, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party leader Elizabeth May, Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet, local MPs and MPPs.

Tony Leah of Green Jobs Oshawa tells The Oshawa Express they have yet to hear back from the government or GM, but a lot of people are signing the petition, and it’s been shared on social media.

“It’s been shared on Facebook, it’s getting around to a lot of different places, a lot of organizations are expressing interest, particularly in the labour movement, and environmental organizations have been supporting it,” he says.

He notes GM was “leaned on” by the American government, and there are now two plants there that are making PPE, but all they’ve done in Canada is gather PPE at the Oshawa plant and donate it.

“GM has not responded directly to us. I saw their statement, which I think is deliberately deceptive…, they include a sentence which refers to their engineers helping Ontario Tech University, and in the same sentence they talk about delivering PPE from their Oshawa plant, and it leaves the implication that they have produced something, which they haven’t,” says Leah.

He notes taking the PPE in the plant and donating it is a “good thing to do,” but he points out GM has yet to produce anything in Canada.

Ward 1 City and Regional Councillor John Neal shared an email exchange between himself and Durham MPP Erin O’Toole with The Oshawa Express.

In the exchange, Neal asked O’Toole, Durham MPP Lindsey Park, and Oshawa MP Colin Carrie if it would be possible to reopen the Oshawa plant to make PPE, as GM plants in the U.S. are doing just that.

“Residents in Oshawa want to contribute and take a vital role in some aspects of the manufacturing of health care equipment so desperately needed by frontline healthcare workers to address the COVID-19 virus locally, nationally and worldwide,” reads Neal’s initial email.

He added Oshawa has the skilled workforce, manufacturing facilities, roadways, airways, waterways and railways.

“All the logistics [are] right here in Oshawa,” he writes.

While Park and Carrie responded via other means, O’Toole wrote back stating there is a process in place to open plants such as Oshawa’s.

“As much as I would love our site to do this important work, the idle nature of the site likely means it is not as fast as others. I know the federal and provincial governments are looking at this,” writes O’Toole.

GM Canada suspended operations in late March, and began collecting and donating PPE a few days later. American plants began production of PPE earlier this month.

In an email to The Oshawa Express, GM Canada communications director Jennifer Wright explained the company has had no contact with Green Jobs Oshawa, and has no comment on their platform.

“What I can share is that GM Canada is committed to helping our front-line medical workers. We have our engineers supporting Ontario Tech University and OPG on the development of medical face shields and our first delivery of donated personal protective equipment is being picked up soon by the Public Health Agency of Canada from our Oshawa Parts Plant,” writes Wright.

The statement also notes there are Canadian suppliers helping to manufacture masks in the U.S.

“We are looking at a number of ways we can help and will share those details when appropriate,” reads the statement.