The century-old automotive plant in Oshawa is slated to have its last vehicle roll off the assembly line sometime this week, as General Motors (GM) pulls the plug on the long-standing production facility.
The closure will leave almost 2,600 workers without a job, something that the plant has been bracing for since GM announced the closure back in November 2018.
“This is a tough week,” said Jerry Dias, the national president for Unifor, the union representing the company’s hourly wage earners.
“The timing couldn’t be worse. We’re less than two weeks before Christmas.”
The 22-hectare facility will be converted into a test track for autonomous and other advanced vehicles.
This comes after GM invested $170 million to transition the plant from manufacturing vehicles to stamping, sub-assembly and autonomous vehicle testing in May.
It would save 300 union jobs at the plant.
“It doesn’t detract from the fact that this week thousands and thousands and thousands of workers will be losing their jobs,” Dias said.
One of those workers is Billy Kudla.
Kudla is an electrician and a father of three who has worked at the plant for 34 years. Now Kudla, along with thousands of others, need to start over.
“A lot of these people never had to have a job interview in their life,” Kudla said. “I never wrote a resumé. I came out of university with two degrees and found jobs right away.”
Jennifer Wright, spokesperson for GM said in an email that the company has done everything they can to minimize uncertainty for Oshawa employees by “offering jobs in other GM operations, paid retraining, [and] very strong retirement packages.”
“Is it a huge blow? Absolutely,” said Dias.
“We can’t minimize what’s happening here today because it’s catastrophic but it’s not going to silence our voice.”
Move to green technology
Dias said he attended the facility on Monday for a tour to make sure GM maintains the integrity of the plant, which he says, means the ability to continue to build vehicles in the future.
He said he knows the automotive industry is moving toward automated and electric vehicles, but he wants that dialogue to include manufacturers.
“When we have governments that put billions of dollars in infrastructure money and [are] talking about the green economy well then that has to include manufacturing,” Dias said.
For Kudla, he thinks that the Oshawa plant may serve as the perfect place for this new technology, saying it would only take a bit of tweaking to what they already have.
“This facility is here. It’s all ready to just basically turn the key and do a little bit of programming on the robots so we can have a line running again,” Kudla said.
“If they’ve got something new that they’re bringing on, say the autonomous vehicle or an electric vehicle, this is the best place to build it.”