It’s been nearly three months since General Motors announced that it would close its plant in Oshawa, Ont., and while local employees aren’t willing to give up just yet, one northern Ontario community is stepping up to provide an option for workers who may feel there is no other alternative than to move.
GM employees in Oshawa gathered again on Friday, standing in solidarity with workers from Lear Corporation in Whitby, Ont., which provides parts and services for the plant.
While employees aren’t ready to throw in the towel, a community 730 kilometres north is paying attention.
“Right off the bat, I could easily train 20 people,” said Matt Socchia, maintenance director of JD Aero in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
JD Aero is a growing company that performs heavy maintenance on large commercial aircrafts.
“We, as a city, have been in this position numerous times with ups and downs in the steel mill so we know what people are going through. We saw an opportunity that we (have) a skilled labour force that could possibly integrate into our own, where we have significant need for people,” said Socchia.
Right now, JD Aero and the City of Sault Ste. Marie are putting the bug in GM workers’ ears that the Sault is an option.
“Not a lot of people look at moving to northern Ontario, but we can train them to be aircraft maintenance engineers if they want to go that route,” said Socchia.
Over the next couple of years, the City of Sault Ste. Marie is looking to attract a few hundred workers.
Bill Kudla has been working at the GM Oshawa plant for 33 years. While he’s not willing to give up the fight, he’s open to change.
“Sault Ste. Marie is a beautiful area of the country. We got great expanses up there. There’s hunting, there’s fishing, there’s all kinds of outdoor sports. It’s a big, big move. It’s far; I’d be away from my kids and my grandkids,” said Kudla, who is a plant electrician at GM Oshawa.
In a statement, GM said it has been contacted by more than 20 large employers from across Durham Region and the Greater Toronto Area as well as Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie. GM added that those employers are interested in hiring GM workers for up to 5,000 positions that the companies plan to fill over the next two years.
JD Aero and City of Sault Ste. Marie staff are hoping to travel to Oshawa and the Greater Toronto Area in the coming months to meet with GM employees and discuss the possibility of making a move to northern Ontario.