The Canadian Press
TORONTO–The union representing workers at the General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont. is promising “one hell of a fight” after the automaker announced yesterday it would close the location, along with four other facilities in the U.S., as part of a global reorganization.
Hours after GM’s announcement, Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, stood before a union hall overflowing with anxious GM workers and said the union will fight against the planned move “tooth and nail.”
“They are not closing our damn plant without one hell of a fight,” Dias told the audience, some still drenched from holding an impromptu picket line in the driving rain.
Dias said the plant has won “every award” and was the best by “every matrix.”
“We are sick and tired of being pushed around,” he added. “And we’re not going to be pushed around . . . we deserve respect.”
GM announced the closures yesterday as part of a sweeping strategy to transform its product line and manufacturing process that will see the company focus on electric and autonomous vehicle programs–a plan it said will save the company $6 billion (U.S.) by the year 2020.
“This industry is changing very rapidly, when you look at all of the transformative technologies, be it propulsion, autonomous driving,” GM chief executive and chairwoman Mary Barra told reporters yesterday.
“These are things we’re doing to strengthen the core business,” she stressed.
“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.”
GM also said it will reduce salaried and salaried contract staff by 15 percent, which includes 25 percent fewer executives.
The $6 billion (U.S.) in savings includes cost reductions of $4.5 billion (U.S.) and lower capital expenditure annually of almost $1.5 billion (U.S.)
The impending shutdown is “scary,” said Matt Smith, who has worked at the Oshawa plant for 12 years.
He said his wife also works at the GM facility and the pair have an 11-month-old at home.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feed my family,” Smith said outside of the plant’s south gate, where workers instituted a blockade for trucks from the entrance.
“It’s hard, it’s horrible,” he added. “We have always been the best plant in North America. It’s a kick in the nuts.”
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.
Production began at the Oshawa plant on Nov. 7, 1953, and in the 1980s the plant employed roughly 23,000 people.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, said it was a “difficult day” for the Oshawa plant workers, Ontario auto part suppliers, and their families.
The provincial government has begun exploring measures to help impacted workers, businesses, and communities cope with the “aftermath of this decision,” including a training program to help local workers to regain employment as quickly as possible, Ford added.