General Motors will close its production plant in Oshawa along with four facilities in the U.S. as part of a global reorganization that will see the company focus on electric and autonomous vehicle programs.
The auto manufacturer announced the closures as part of a sweeping strategy to transform its product line and manufacturing process in order to meet changing demand in the transportation industry, a plan that it says will save the company $6 billion by the year 2020.
GM also said it will reduce salaried and salaried contract staff by 15 per cent, which includes 25 per cent fewer executives.
Representatives from Unifor rallied the workers on Monday afternoon, saying they won’t accept the closure.
“They aren’t closing our damned plant without one hell of a fight,” Jerry Dias, National President of Unifor, said to a cheering crowd.
The only decision Dias says Unifor will accept is if the plant stays open, saying that a letter from GM in 2016 promised that it would.
He added that they won’t be “jerked around” by GM, and that they “are sick and tired.”
“I’m a fan of workers, I’m a fan of feeding families,” Greg Moffat, Chair of GM Master Bargaining Committee, said. “We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for what we’ve earned.”
Calling it a sad day for Durham, Premier Doug Ford said he will do “everything possible” to support the GM workers.
“I had an opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister this morning. We may disagree on politics sometimes but we’re united on making sure that we support the people that are possibly losing their jobs coming up in the GM plant and all their suppliers, Ford said.
Calls Ford’s line “we’re here for the people” a cliché.
The Premier said one of the ways the government plans to help the workers is through job sharing, as well as asking the federal government to make some changes in the way Employment Insurance (EI) can be collected.
“Typically the smaller companies may not have enough work for a 40 hour week, so they have two choices — either lay the employee off or they cut their hours down, for example, down to 20 hours,” Ford explained.
“What we’re going to implement is that they can work the 20 hours and then they will be allowed to collect EI.”
The province has also asked for EI to be extended an additional five weeks — from 45 to 50 weeks.
“I just want to reassure the GM workers, the supply chain suppliers, that we’re doing everything we can and will do everything possible to make sure that we support them, we stand by them.”
As for General Motors, Ford said he found out about the plant closure on Sunday afternoon.
“The first thing I said to (the president of GM) ‘is there anything we can do as a province, absolutely anything,’ and the answer was no, there’s nothing. Basically the ship has already left the dock. They didn’t ask for anything,” Ford said.
“We supported GM, as everyone remembers, years ago when they were in trouble … our history goes back 100 years with General Motors and to say we’re disappointed is an understatement.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet that workers at the plant have been “part of the heart and soul of Oshawa for generations.”
“We’ll do everything we can to help the families affected by this news get back on their feet. Yesterday, I spoke with @GM’s Mary Barra to express my deep disappointment in the closure,” he added.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains also expressed his disappointment about the announcement.
“Personally I’m very very hurt by this. I started my career in this sector and I acknowledge the impact this has on the families the communities and so many suppliers as well,” he said.
Bains said that consumer preferences were the basis for the decision and the closure was related to the decline in demand for GM’s sedan vehicles and increased demand for vehicles like trucks.
Federal PC Leader Andrew Scheer says he is determined to find a solution and does not want to give up the fight on day one.
“Canada’s Conservatives will be asking for an emergency debate in the House of Commons so parliamentarians can talk about what can be done,” he said. “We owe it to the workers to explore every single option possible to save these jobs.”
Despite the Oshawa plant being a casualty of a company-wide global restructuring, Scheer said that the Liberal government’s policies, specifically things like the carbon tax, have made Canada a less attractive place to do business.
“I’m not suggesting there’s one particular thing that will lead to a reversal on this decision, not one magic bullet. But surely to goodness if we collectively work together we can find some type of policy solutions that will keep manufacturing jobs here in Canada,” he said.
Referring to GM’s move towards electric vehicles, Scheer said it is important to explore how to make Canada the type of place that auto manufacturers want to do business in, “so that if they are re-tooling, if they are restructuring, if they are changing production lines, that they choose to do that in Canada.”
On Monday morning, dozens of workers were seen walking out of the Oshawa Assembly Plant, with some saying they were very unhappy with news of the planned closure.
Workers said they were creating a blockade, stopping trucks carrying supplies from entering the plant.
“The only way to make our point is to stop production,” said April, a GM employee. “They brought the fight on and we’re willing to fight for our jobs”
Unifor, the union representing more than 2,500 workers at the plant, said it has been told that there is no product allocated to the Oshawa plant past December 2019.
Unifor Local 222 shop chairman Greg Moffat said Monday the plant is not closing “without the fight of our lives.”
Production at the plant began on Nov. 7, 1953, and in the 1980s the plant employed roughly 23,000 people.
Reports began to surface on the plant’s impending closure on Sunday evening, leaving Oshawa mayor John Henry shocked and hoping they were “just a rumour.”
“I’m concerned, I haven’t heard from General Motors yet and I’m waiting to hear what the story or announcement is tomorrow,” Henry told 680 NEWS. “I’m curious to know the reasons, I’m curious to know why we weren’t informed or who has been informed. They’ll be a lot of questions. Is this part of something that’s happening across Canada? There’s a lot of pieces to this story.”
Jennifer French, MPP for Oshawa, said she found the report of the plant closure “gravely concerning.”
“If GM Canada is indeed turning its back on 100 years of industry and community — abandoning workers and families in Oshawa — then this is a callous decision that must be fought,” she said in a statement.
“GM didn’t build #Oshawa. Oshawa built GM,” French added in a tweet.
Dr. Colin Carrie, the Member of Parliament for Oshawa, called the reports “very concerning.”
In 2009, GM shut down truck assembly at the plant, citing high gas prices and a deep recession caused by the financial crisis. At that time, GM agreed to keep 16 per cent of its continental production in Canada through 2016 as part of a multi-billion dollar bailout by both the Ontario and Federal governments.
In 2015, assembly of the Chevrolet Camaro in Oshawa ended and in 2016, assembly of both the Chevrolet Impala and Equinox came to an end.
GM is also closing the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant in Detroit and the Lordstown Assembly in Warren, Ohio in 2019. GM propulsion plants in White Marsh, Maryland and Warren, Michigan will also be shut.
“This industry is changing very rapidly, when you look at all of the transformative technologies, be it propulsion, autonomous driving … these are things we’re doing to strengthen the core business,” GM chief executive and chairman Mary Barra told reporters on Monday. “We think it’s appropriate to do it at a time, and get in front of it, while the company is strong and while the economy is strong.”
The US$6-billion in savings includes cost reductions of US$4.5 billion and lower capital expenditure annually of almost US$1.5 billion, GM said.