Tears, quivering voices and promises to fight on: GM workers react to Oshawa plant closure
Saddened, shocked, but for some, not surprised.
That’s some of the sentiment from General Motors workers in Oshawa, who streamed out of the plant on Monday morning amid reports that their facility would close by the end of 2019.
“We’re taking our stand. That’s all there is to it. Lines down, everyone’s leaving, end of story,” one worker told reporters as she and hundreds of others walked off the job shortly after 9 a.m.
“My heart is beating out of my chest right now. I’ve been here 13 years. You’ve got to take a stand at some point, so that’s what we’re doing.”
As first reported by CTV News Toronto, GM will close the facility as part of a sweeping global restructuring to meet changing consumer demands.
The auto manufacturer confirmed the closure on Monday morning, along with that the closure of the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant in Detroit and the Lordstown Assembly in Warren, Ohio.
Propulsion plants in White Marsh, Maryland and Warren, Michigan are also slated to close.
GM Canada facilities in St. Catharines and Ingersoll were spared in Monday’s cuts.
Feeling blindsided by the reports swirling in the media, the union instructed its members to leave the plant twohours into the morning shift, rather than wait on a formal internal announcement.
“There are people in there bawling their eyes out,” said one worker, his voice choked with emotion.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Others expressed disappointment but suggested they were unsurprised by the decision.
“I expect a little more out of GM but I shouldn’t be surprised. All the years I’ve put in here, it hasn’t gone both ways,” one worker said, taking a moment to wipe tears from his eyes with a tissue.
“We gave them all the productivity, the efficiency, win all the awards and this is what we get.”
“You could see it coming,” said another.
“The writing was on the wall. They never did any investment here. The plant is old and tired out. It was right for closure.”
Oshawa houses GM Canada's headquarters and the city has a storied automotive history. Though it employed 23,000 people in the city at its peak in the 1980s, workers said the number has dwindled steadily over the years.
“General Motors has been pulling out of Oshawa for 20 years,” one worker said as he showed up for his pre-dawn shift on Monday.
“Right now we’re at 10 per cent of the workforce we used to be. It doesn’t surprise me.”
But some workers aren’t giving up without a fight.
“I can assure you of one thing – that plant is not closing without the fight of our lives,” Greg Moffat, the chair of the plant’s union local, told reporters Monday.
“The sooner they realize that our plant is not closing, the better off they’re going to be.”
Prior to the confirmation, Unifor said a decision to close the Oshawa plant would not align with the latest collective agreement, signed in 2016.
Unifor President Jerry Dias vowed to fight the decision, urging workers to stay united while the union plans their next steps.
“We aren’t giving up,” he told workers. “Let’s get this done.”
The grim announcement was a topic of conversation over breakfast at an Oshawa diner.
“It hurts,” Oshawa resident Graham Hill told CTV News Toronto on Monday morning. “I mean, there are a lot of people in the community who do have those jobs and it’ll be sad to see them go.”
“We’ve always kind of been identified as a factory city, so to have that identifier taken away is strange,” Cecily Minniti noted.
“It’s going to feel like an emptiness there because it was always a place of pride.”
For the city of about 166,000, a closure would be a massive blow to the local economy.
"The surrounding businesses are going to be affected massively, from the mom and pop restaurants to the mall, people are going to be cautious about their spending,” said Kyle Douglas, the president of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce.
"There's dark days ahead for some businesses."