Unionized workers at the General Motors Oshawa Assembly Plant walked off the job Tuesday night, hours after the company reaffirmed its plans to shut down the facility by the end of the year.
“The workers were so upset they couldn’t work. They couldn’t believe that General Motors had announced that all their hard work was going to be rewarded by cancelling their livelihoods, by telling them the plant is closing,” Greg Moffatt, the plant chair representing Unifor workers at GM’s Oshawa facility, told reporters late Tuesday evening.
“I can send General Motors a message right now: We’re not going to lay down. We’re proud people, we’re proud Canadians, and I believe Canadians and taxpayers are behind the workers in the city of Oshawa.”
WATCH: “Devastated”- Unifor Local 222 President Colin James discusses the morale of workers after General Motors reiterated that they’ll be shuttering their plant in Oshawa.
Moffatt said workers will be back on the job on Wednesday. He wouldn’t discuss what the union’s next steps would be, saying conversations with workers are ongoing.
“General Motors, we’re not going away and the sooner you realize it, the better off we’re all going to be,” Moffatt said.
“All we want to do is make you a lot of money and build the best cars and trucks for you. You’re the ones who did this to us, we didn’t do this to you.”
Kathleen O’Keefe, a spokeswoman for Unifor, said in an email early Wednesday that the workers have since gone back on the line after starting the protest Tuesday.
The action came after the union posted messages on Twitter saying on-duty workers were holding a sit-in.
“The buzzers are sounding in the Oshawa Assembly Plant tonight because the line is down. Workers are protesting @GM and it’s betrayal of Canadian workers and consumers after it rejected Unifor’s proposed solutions to #SaveOshawaGM today,” Unifor Canada tweeted out just before 8 p.m.
“Hey @GM if you want to sell in Canada, you need to keep building in #Oshawa say workers who are peacefully protesting tonight, sitting at their benches at the plant @GMcanada plans to close.”
In photos shared by the union, workers could also be seen gathering on part of the assembly line.
Unifor president Jerry Dias sat down with GM on Tuesday to talk about the proposals the union had made to extend the life of the Ontario plant. However, the union came away empty-handed.
“I am deeply disappointed by the response from the corporation,” Dias said at a press conference in Windsor.
David Paterson, vice president of corporate affairs at GM Canada, said he options suggested by the union, including extending the life of the Chevy Impala and Cadillac XTS currently produced at the plant or shifting production slated for Mexico to the plant, are not economic.
“We studied all of the different proposals in detail, some of which we studied in detail before, and they all added substantial incremental cost and they would not address the economic situation that we have with the shift in the marketplace,” he said.
Paterson said in a phone interview that the move in the auto market away from cars means the company has to transition away from the models, while it is too expensive and will take too long to shift other production to the already under-capacity Oshawa plant.
He said the union should instead work with the company on timing and transition plans for the close to 3,000 jobs impacted. GM said it has identified job opportunities, is willing to pay for retraining, and is open to negotiations on packages for workers on top of what is already included in contracts.
The company also said about half of the 2,600 hourly workers are eligible for a pension. Retirement benefits include about $3,500 a month, a $20,000 car voucher, and a lump sum payment of about $50,000, said Paterson.
Unifor has been running ads critical of the company’s decision and highlighting that it accepted $11 billion in bailout funds from Canadian governments in the financial downturn. The union has also emphasized the many spin-off jobs that depend on the Oshawa plant and the wider impacts of its closure on the economy.
— With files from The Canadian Press