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GM confirms Oshawa Assembly Plant will stop production in 2019, affecting more than 2,500 jobs

GM confirms Oshawa Assembly Plant will stop production in 2019, affecting more than 2,500 jobs
Business
General Motors has officially announced it will stop production at its Oshawa plant in 2019, confirming media reports from late Sunday evening.

The move will affect thousands of jobs in the city, just east of Toronto.

It is part of broader changes at the company’s North American operations, including also ceasing production at assembly plants in Ohio and Michigan, according to a press release posted to GM’s website Monday morning.

According to GM’s website, the Oshawa Assembly Plant employs 2,522 workers with Unifor Local 222. Production began on Nov. 7, 1953, and in the 1980s the plant employed roughly 23,000 people. The plant is used to make the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala sedans as well as the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks.

“The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,” GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in the release.

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

The company will lay off 14,700 factory and white-collar workers in North America and put five plants up for possible closure as it restructures to cut costs and focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles.

About 6,000 factory workers could lose jobs in the U.S. and Canada. The reduction includes 8,100 white-collar workers, some of whom will take buyouts and others who will be laid off.

On Monday morning, dozens of workers were seen walking out of the Oshawa plant, with some saying they were very unhappy with news of the planned closure.

One man said the union had told workers at the plant to go home and would be speaking with employees at an afternoon meeting.

Most workers leaving the plant declined to speak, just shaking their heads.

“This one just caught everyone by surprise. Normally, you have some idea when something like this is coming. We’re all just in shock,” said one worker, who didn’t give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak with the media.

“It’s kind of fitting that we’re out in the cold and rain,” he added, before getting into his car and driving off.

Premier Doug Ford, who recently unveiled an “Ontario — Open For Business” sign along the U.S. border at Sarnia, said the GM announcement is “devastating” for GM workers and auto parts suppliers.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they get back on their feet,” he pledged in the legislature after a call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ask for an extension of employment insurance eligibility when layoffs occur, as has been done in Alberta’s oil patch, and to press the federal government to continue working with the U.S. to remove punitive steel tariffs.

The province, which got official notification from GM of its plans on Sunday afternoon, is also deploying its rapid re-employment and training services program to help workers in Oshawa with training for other jobs.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government should be pushing GM for new products to save the plant and its workers livelihoods instead of “waving bye-bye” to the jobs.

“They don’t want an adjustment program. They want to keep their jobs,” she thundered in the legislature’s daily question period. “I’ve never seen a government roll over so quickly and throw in the towel.”

Ford said of his talks with GM that “they told me straight up, there’s nothing we can do….they’re gone.”

He accused Horwath of wanting to give billions of dollars to a company that “doesn’t want it.”

As a TV announcer read out portions of GM’s news release, the bustling lobby of Unifor Local 222 headquarters went silent. A few exasperated sighs, and the occasional four-letter word was heard.

Unifor, the union representing more than 2,500 workers at the plant, said it has been informed that there is no product allocated to the Oshawa plant past December 2019.

In a statement, Unifor local 222 leadership said they do not “accept the closure of the plant as a foregone conclusion.”

“The union is assuring members that we are calling on General Motors Canada to allocate product to Oshawa. The Oshawa assembly plant is GM’s most decorated plant with a highly skilled, committed workforce.”

The statement added “our plant has been in this situation before with no product on the horizon, and we were able to successfully campaign for continued operations.”

In the fall, the Detroit automaker offered buyouts to 18,000 white collar workers, but it has yet to say how many accepted, or if it’s close to meeting the staff reduction goals it set to better withstand leaner times.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the GM Oshawa situation has Ontario”on the verge the worst economic catastrophe to hit Ontario since the Great Recession a decade ago” and questioned why Ford was blindsided.

“There is a short window to win a new mandate from GM for electric or autonomous vehicles. Mr. Ford should work closely with the union and the federal government to win that mandate,” said Fraser, the MPP for Ottawa South.

At Queen’s Park, NDP MPP Jennifer French, representing Oshawa, expressed grave concern about the news.
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