Canadian auto workers union still fighting to keep Oshawa GM plant open

Feb 5, 2019

There’s been no let up on the campaign from Canada’s auto workers union, Unifor, against General Motors. The union has vowed to fight a planned shutdown of the GM plant in Oshawa, Ontario, at the end of the year. GM says it’s doing what it can to help affected workers transition and find other jobs.

The union took its campaign national by taking out ads during the Super Bowl to drive home its point, calling for a boycott of vehicles made in Mexico.

The ad said, "What’s in a vehicle identification number? A lot more than you might think. There’s someone’s livelihood, food on the table, money for their child’s education. And if it starts with a three, it stands for jobs taken away from Canadians. Support Canadian jobs. Boycott GM vehicles made in Mexico. GM if you want sell here, build here.”

The president of Unifor, Jerry Dias said 2,600 unionized workers will lose their jobs when the Oshawa assembly plant closes at the end of the year. Dias has met with Canadian political leaders and he’s travelled to Detroit to meet with GM executives to look for ways to keep the Oshawa plant open. So far his actions and those of Canadian lawmakers have failed to get GM to reconsider. It’s closing several plants in the US as well as the Canadian plant, and shifting production to Mexico. Dias said Americans should heed the boycott as well.

"This is over 600,000 vehicles a year that are shipped from Mexico to Canada and the United States," said Dias. "We want you to buy only GM vehicles that are made in Canada and the United States. This is not us attacking Mexican workers. But what we’re disgusted by is how General Motors is using these workers as pawns for corporate profits.”

GM tried to stop the ads by sending the union a cease-and-desist letter on Friday. But the union wouldn't back down.

For its part GM says the closures are necessary because it’s switching production to manufacture more self-driving and electric vehicles. As for the workers, GM Canada Vice President Dave Paterson said about half of them - 1,300 - qualify for full pensions. As for the rest, he said, "We’ve been approached by a significant number of local employers in Durham region that have been offering to provide employment for any of the impacted workers."

Paterson said those offers are coming from, among others, GM Dealers and Ontario Power Generation which is refurbishing its nuclear plant in the region. Paterson said GM is also putting up several million dollars to help retrain those employees. He said so far he’s identified about 2,400 of what he calls "good jobs" that have become available.

"We’ve had our dealers reach out to us and one of the things that has been offered up," said Paterson. "We have a hard time finding or keeping technicians in our dealerships. These are $100,000 a year jobs and our dealers will pay them right away when they move into that job, and then we pay for all their training as well.”

But Jerry Dias insists his workers won’t apply and that GM should stick to making vehicles and not become an employment agency. And besides, he asked, why would any of them would want a job in GM dealership when many of those dealerships are going to go out of business?

Dias said his fight will continue until GM agrees to keep the Oshawa plant open.