TORONTO – The union representing workers at the General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., are promising “one hell of a fight” after the automaker announced it would close the location along with four other facilities in the U.S.
Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, 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 said to cheers from union members.
VIDEO: Ontario Premier Doug Ford blasts what he calls the “devastating” decision by General Motors to cease production at their Oshawa plant
“Cause you see we’re sick and tired of General motors shipping all of our jobs to Mexico.”
Dias said the plant has won “every award” and was the best by “every matrix.”
“We are sick and tired of being pushed around. And we’re not going to be pushed around… we deserve respect,” he said.
LISTEN: Unifor’s Jerry Dias on the closure of the GM plant in Oshawa
GM is shutting down the plant in 2019, putting more than 2,500 employees out of work, as the automobile giant forges ahead with its global restructuring plan.
GM said it is taking steps to improve its “overall business performance” by reorganizing its global product development staff, realigning its manufacturing capacity and reducing the salaried workforce.
“The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,” GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in a media release.
“We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.”
Assembly plants also on the chopping block include those in Detroit and Warren, Ohio as well as propulsion plants in Maryland and Warren, Michigan. GM said two additional plants outside of North America will cease operations by the end of 2019. A facility in Gunsan, Korea was previously slated to be closed.
The company said the moves will save $6 billion by the end of 2020.
GM said part of the restructuring plan includes a larger focus on electric and autonomous vehicle programs.
“GM has recently invested in newer, highly efficient vehicle architectures, especially in trucks, crossovers and SUVs,” the company said in a statement. “GM now intends to prioritize future vehicle investments in its next-generation battery-electric architectures.”
WATCH: GM closing Oshawa plant in 2019, affecting 2,500 jobs
The plant in Oshawa has been in operation since 1953 and has built models for Pontiac, Chevrolet and Buick. Currently, the plant builds the Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.
“The products inside those plants are being discontinued and unfortunately the products that we’ve been making in Oshawa will be discontinued as of the end of 2019,” GM Canada VP of Corporate and Environmental Affairs David Paterson said.
“The other thing is that the market has swung dramatically away from cars to SUV and trucks, so it’s really hard to be able to get new product allocation in the car side of the business. So we’ve been running, instead of three shifts of car production, we’ve been running on one in Oshawa.”
LISTEN: David Paterson of GM Canada
Thousands of workers at the plant walked off the job on Monday morning and were told to go home after reports the automobile giant was going to shut down operations.
“This is so devastating to be able to even announce it without talking to us,” said Dino Chiodo, director of Unifor National Automotive.
“Just imagine you’re hearing through the media that they want to basically have no product allocation post 2019. It’s a total slap in the face for the amount of work these employees have done for them.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he spoke with GM’s Mary Barra on Sunday and expressed his disappointment in the plant closure.
“GM workers have been part of the heart and soul of Oshawa for generations – and we’ll do everything we can to help the families affected by this news get back on their feet,” Trudeau said in a tweet.
“Yesterday, I spoke with @GM’s Mary Barra to express my deep disappointment in the closure.”
According to government sources, Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke with Trudeau and both of them shared their concern for the workers at the Oshawa plant.
The premier said it was a “difficult day” for the Oshawa plant workers, Ontario auto part suppliers and their families.
Ford told reporters following question period at the Ontario legislature that he spoke to representatives of GM on Sunday and urged them to keep jobs in Oshawa.
“The first thing I said to them, ‘Is there anything we can do as a province, absolutely anything.’ I asked them numerous times and the answer was ‘No, there’s nothing,” Ford said.
“Basically the ship has already left the dock. They didn’t ask for anything. So are we disappointed? Yeah, we’re disappointed in GM.”
VIDEO: Doug Ford outlines how province plans to help Oshawa GM employees
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.
“It is disappointing that GM failed to see and build upon this competitive advantage,” said Ford in a statement on Monday. “While the company is entitled to make its own business decisions, I am confident that history will prove them wrong.”
VIDEO: Ford says he and PM Trudeau are ‘on the same page’ on Oshawa closure
Ford says the province has called on the federal government to extend employment insurance eligibility by five weeks to a maximum of 50 weeks.
Meanwhile, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath criticized the premier for giving up on workers in Oshawa and accused him of not doing enough to keeps jobs in the community.
“I was disgusted to hear Doug Ford say that he’s throwing in the towel, and throwing thousands of Oshawa families under the bus by refusing to fight for good auto jobs. He’s already given up before trying,” the opposition leaders said in a statement. “He’s writing off the auto sector. Auto workers and their families deserve better.”
Navdeep Bains, the minister for innovation, science and economic development, said during a new conference in Ottawa on Monday that the federal government was made aware of GM’s decision on Sunday and will actively seek ways to help workers.
“Right now we’re assessing all of the different factors that come into play. But this is really about the workers and the impact it is having on them, their families, the community as well,” Bains said.
VIDEO: Federal government still not sure on next steps following Oshawa GM plant closure, Bains says
Oshawa NDP MPP Jennifer French said Sunday evening the closure will be a heavy blow for the city and the decision must be fought.
“If GM Canada is indeed turning its back on 100 years of industry and community — abandoning workers and families in Oshawa — then this is a callous decision that must be fought,” French said.
LISTEN: MPP Jennifer French on the closure of the GM plant in Oshawa
“Words cannot fully describe the anxiety that my community is feeling at this moment.”
WATCH: Oshawa MP Carrie says GM’s closure of plant ‘devastating for community’
Bill Macklem has worked at the plant for 31 years and says he learned about the end of operations after his mother-in-law called him on Sunday and told him to turn on the news.
“It’s absolutely horrible, we’re all here to make a living and feed our families,” said Macklem. “Its bad news.”
Some workers entering the plant early Monday morning said the job losses will hurt young employees the most.
“My grandfather, my father, the whole family worked here. I just feel sorry for the younger people and there’s no jobs out there anymore,” said Danny Toms.
“It’s bad news. It’s going to hurt Oshawa. I’m almost ready to retire. So it doesn’t affect me a whole lot. But the other young kids, it’s going to be hard on them,” Mike Robinson said.
WATCH: Family member of Oshawa GM employees expresses disbelief over company set to end operations
Automobile analysts say the future of the Oshawa plant was put in peril back in 2015 when the auto giant cut 1,000 jobs from the facility and shifted their strategy from building passenger cars to trucks and SUVs.
“There wasn’t a significant amount of new product that was scheduled for the facility,” Joe McCabe, president and CEO of consulting firm AutoForecast Solutions, said.
“It was going to be basically adding trucks but final assembly trucks, not full production and bringing those truck bodies from the United States and shipping them to Oshawa so they were fully assembled. So that sort of put the writing on the wall about what the future long-term investment of Oshawa was supposed to be.”
WATCH: GM employee calls potential shutdown at Oshawa plant difficult
McCabe says there could be a silver lining in the plant closure as GM refocuses its efforts on new vehicle technology.
GM recently opened a new automotive innovation centre earlier this year in Markham, Ont., which the company said will add 700 new jobs.
“For the last several years, Canada specifically has been saying we want to be the silicon valley of the north and we’re seeing a lot of manufacturers leverage the strong work force and highly educated work force of Canada, to say maybe this is where we want to put more of our technology base, our mobility,” McCabe said.
“Everyone’s pushing into this autonomous space that is years away from its full adoption but you’re going to see these mature countries such as Canada, I think being a better player.”
This is not the first time the factory has faced closure. In 2015, GM moved the Camaro line to a plant in Michigan, which saw the elimination of 1,000 jobs at the Oshawa plant.
In 2009, the government bailout for auto manufacturers established that 16 per cent of GM’s manufacturing in North America was to be kept in Canada. That stipulation lapsed in 2016.
VIDEO: Horwath: Oshawa residents don’t want an adjustment program, they want to keep their jobs
–With files from Jamie Mauracher and The Canadian Press