‘I can’t sleep at night’: Workers reflect on Oshawa GM plant closure

Click to play video: 'GM employees reflect on the day the company announced the closure'
GM employees reflect on the day the company announced the closure
Nearly a year after GM announced the plant closure in Oshawa, the memories of that day are still fresh in employees minds – Oct 16, 2019

Oshawa’s identity has been closely linked to General Motors for a long time.

At one time, the company employed more than 20,000 people in the city. But as it moves its operations south, leaving just a small operation behind, thousands of workers will soon be left without work.

When you ask GM employees about the day the company announced it was closing, the memory is still fresh in their minds.

“What I saw was single mothers being sick to their stomach, going back to precarious work,” says Billy Kudla.

The devastating blow came in November 2018, when officials announced that operations would be moved. The news was a shock to workers who were told just weeks before that everything was going well.

“They stopped the line and told us good things were coming to GM in Oshawa,” says Jeremy Pooler, an employee of 15 years. “A month and a half later, they pulled the rug out from underneath us.”

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The thought of the company pulling what he says is a 180 on them still frustrates Pooler.

READ MORE: ‘It’s bad’ — Employees, families digest ‘devastating’ Oshawa GM plant closure

“We were doing everything that they asked, building the product, making the customer happy, and then they do this to us.”

Pooler says what irks employees the most is that the Canadian and Ontario governments provided GM with billions in bailout funds in 2009. With government money having been given to the corporation, he believes more should be done to keep business in Canada.

“Let’s develop an auto policy. We lent General Motors this money — you need to build cars in Canada. It’s plain and simple.”

READ MORE: Timeline — GM Canada’s rise, fall, bailout and eventual departure from Oshawa

When it comes to workers losing their jobs, GM has offered retraining and sizeable pension packages for its employees.

But workers at other so-called feeder plants aren’t so lucky. Facilities like LEAR Whitby and Syncreon make parts primarily for GM, and once General Motors pulls the plug, those employees lose their jobs with what Pooler says is very little support.

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“They’re out of work,” says Pooler. “The families, the kids, the hockey games, you know. Excuse my language, but it’s bull.”

Click to play video: 'Whitby auto parts workers in limbo as GM set to close'
Whitby auto parts workers in limbo as GM set to close

Kayla Whitehead used to work at CEVA Logistics, which runs the shipping and receiving division at the plant. She was recently laid off due to the ongoing United Auto Workers strike in the U.S.

“I can’t sleep at night,” says Whitehead. “I have problems sleeping, trying to figure out a way that I can make this work out.”

Whitehead says looking for a job is even more of a challenge for her as a trans woman.

“It’s hard, especially for someone like me who is trans. It’s difficult to find a job because sometimes I feel like I’m discriminated against.”

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Workers across the board have been laid off as the UAW strike continues down south. In any case, employees at GM and a number of other factories affected by the cuts will cease operations at the end of November.

GM has vowed to help maintain at least 300 jobs at the plant after a large campaign against the closure from Unifor. That change will see the facility switch over to a parts-stamping facility and installing an autonomous vehicle testing track. But workers still feel like more should have been done to keep jobs in Oshawa and the country.

“Let’s build on something. We might get a vehicle back to build, but at this point it doesn’t look very good because they’d rather build their vehicles in Mexico or China.”

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