‘Our liveli­hood is gone’

Oshawa di­gests ‘dev­as­tat­ing’ GM plant clo­sure


OSHAWA, Ont. — Shell­shocked GM work­ers streamed into the rain and chill wind af­ter their union sent them home on Mon­day amid word that their plant would be clos­ing by the end of 2019, deal­ing a blow to a city and re­gion once syn­ony­mous with the au­tomaker.

As work­ers and their fam­i­lies di­gested the pend­ing loss of more than 2,500 jobs, dis­cus­sion at a nearby mall turned on the un­cer­tain re­al­ity.

Joanna Sto­jkovic, clutch­ing her seven-month-old daugh­ter, put down the phone af­ter her GM worker hus­band passed on the news.

“Our liveli­hood is gone. We’re all in limbo right now,” Sto­jkovic said. “It’s a dev­as­tat­ing blow for all of Durham Re­gion. GM has been around for a long time.”

Word of the pend­ing clo­sure be­gan swirling Sun­day night, blind­sid­ing work­ers and civic of­fi­cials alike. Oshawa’s mayor said he had no inkling of what will be the lat­est blow to the city 50 kilo­me­tres east of Toronto.

Sto­jkovic said she blamed both GM and the union, Uni­for, for the dearth of in­for­ma­tion. GM, she said, was act­ing com­pletely dis­or­ga­nized and the com­mu­ni­ca­tion all round had been poor.

“It’s bad,” Sto­jkovic said. “It’s go­ing to bring the econ­omy down.”

Once dubbed the Au­to­mo­tive Cap­i­tal of Canada, Oshawa has di­ver­si­fied in re­cent years to be­come an ed­u­ca­tion and health sci­ences hub. Still, as head­quar­ters to GM Canada, its au­to­mo­tive roots run deep — stretch­ing back more than a century — and its plants over the years have been a main­stay of the re­gional econ­omy, at­tract­ing work­ers from a wide area.

In ad­di­tion to the Oshawa plant, the au­tomaker an­nounced Mon­day it was plan­ning to close four other plants in the United States and two over­seas by the end of 2019 as part of a global re­struc­tur­ing that will see the com­pany cut costs and fo­cus more on au­ton­o­mous and elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

Mayor John Henry, who was born in Oshawa to an auto worker fa­ther, said word of the pend­ing clo­sure, es­pe­cially just be­fore Christ­mas, is go­ing to hurt.

“That’s 2,500 fam­i­lies in town who are in some form of chaos right now,” Henry said out­side his City Hall of­fice, where a gift-bear­ing Santa Claus stood next to a lit Christ­mas tree. “It is per­sonal. There isn’t a fam­ily in Oshawa that hasn’t been touched by some­body who works in Gen­eral Mo­tors.”

Un­til the re­ces­sion hit in 2008, GM em­ployed 28,000 peo­ple in the city, cre­at­ing an­other seven spin-off jobs for each of those. Still, Henry called the clo­sure de­ci­sion baf­fling, given the cor­po­ra­tion in­vested more than $500 mil­lion in the plant to build pickup trucks only re­cently.

“I’m chal­lenged to un­der­stand why it’s hap­pen­ing at this time,” the mayor said.

Henry said he hoped GM would still find a way to build some­thing new — such as au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles — in a city used to change and adap­ta­tion. Oshawa, he said, has one of the largest com­mu­nity health-care net­works in Canada and is home to post-secondary ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties as well as ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing.

As he sipped his cof­fee at a mall, Ray Nolan, a retiree, called the lat­est news “huge.”

“We’ve seen this be­fore, that’s for sure, but to com­pletely close the op­er­a­tion, it’s like death. It’s done,” Nolan said.

“The econ­omy for the whole area will be badly hurt. It’s go­ing to hurt those fam­i­lies try­ing to hang on to their homes. Those who are think­ing of re­tir­ing, that’s go­ing to be dev­as­tat­ing.”

Nolan noted that it was just a few years ago that the then con­ser­va­tive govern­ment un­der Stephen Harper poured money into GM to keep plants and jobs, say­ing it ap­pears the govern­ment failed to get a bind­ing agree­ment from the cor­po­ra­tion to keep the jobs here.

Nolan also won­dered whether U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s threats to im­pose tar­iffs on Cana­dian built ve­hi­cles played a role.

“It’s come back to haunt us,” Nolan said. “Those jobs will now be pulled over to the States. That’s ex­actly what Trump wanted.”

At the South Gate, Matt Smith joined a block­ade, say­ing he just wants to work. The fu­ture, he said, was “scary,” es­pe­cially since his wife worked at the plant as well and they have an 11-mon­thold baby at home.

“I don’t know how I’m go­ing to feed my fam­ily,” Smith said. “It’s a hor­ri­ble feel­ing. It’s a kick in the nuts.”


Gen­eral Mo­tors will close its pro­duc­tion plant in Oshawa, Ont., 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.

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