TORONTO — General Motors Corp. plans to reopen its Oshawa, Ont. assembly plant, invest up to $1.3 billion in the facility and hire up to 1,700 workers, the union Unifor said Thursday.
The tentative three-year deal with GM, which has not yet been approved by workers, would reopen the Oshawa assembly line to make Chevrolet Silverados and Sierras, 11 months after it was idled as part of a global restructuring plan by the automaker.
“During this process, we had numerous critics — and when I say numerous, it’s a dramatic understatement — those that never thought we did enough, those who thought we should have pushed harder,” said Unifor president Jerry Dias.
“We never gave up hope, and frankly, neither did General Motors.”
GM said its planned new investments will include $1 billion to $1.3 billion in Oshawa with the expected hiring of 1,400 to 1,700 hourly workers.
“Construction will begin immediately at Oshawa Assembly and will include a new body shop and flexible assembly module, to support a fast response to strong customer demand for GM’s new family of pickup trucks,” General Motors Canada president Scott Bell said in a statement.
“Pickups are GM’s largest and most important market segment in Canada and across the continent. They also help GM fund our transition to the electric, autonomous and highly connected future we see ahead.”
The deal, if approved, would be an unexpected but welcome development for the plant east of Toronto, which was downsized to 300 workers last December, down from 2,600. Unifor’s members are set to vote on the new tentative agreement on Sunday.
Union president Jerry Dias said that he expects the investment to be mostly funded by GM, to revive the defunct assembly line and restore the paint and body shops there.
The restored plant would call back 175 laid off workers, and Dias said it could create about 2,000 jobs after vehicle production restarts in January 2022, with a second shift in March 2022 and the work on the second vehicle beginning in May 2022. Up to 2,500 workers could be needed if a third shift is added in July 2022, Dias said at a press conference in Toronto.
Dias noted that some of the former workers at Oshawa GM have since moved on to new positions, and some of the buildings there have already been rented out or sold. About 60 workers there have been making face masks for the government.
The union and company plan to talk to settled or severed former employees as well as others in the Oshawa community as they try to find the right skillsets for the new jobs, Dias said.
The wind-down of the Oshawa plant — which began business in 1907 and was bought by General Motors in 1918, was “devastating,” Dias said. GM said last year the plant would become a part-stamping and autonomous vehicle testing facility.
Dias said the company and union agreed in May 2019 to “pause” the production at the plant, rather than permanently halt the facilities.
“GM agreed that we’d maintain the integrity of the plant, a plant that has a world class paint shop. But the key thing was that we maintain the ability to build vehicles in the future. And that in itself, was the key piece of what we were able to accomplish in May of 2019,” Dias said.
“They can’t have a plant sit there for four or five years with nothing, because then the infrastructure becomes obsolete. So we needed to find a solution immediately. We needed to get people back to work immediately.”
Several Ontario auto parts and service companies also closed after GM’s Oshawa downsizing last year. Dias said he expects many jobs to return for making “bulky” parts, such as seats, that are hard to ship from elsewhere.
Dias also said he believes GM union jobs in Woodstock, Ont. and St. Catharines, Ont. are secure under the tentative three-year deal. While up to half of St. Catharines workers were on track to be laid off prior to bargaining, GM has agreed to invest $109 million there, as well as about half a million dollars in Woodstock to secure 74 jobs.
In total, Dias estimated GM could spend about $1.4 billion under the terms of the deal, which includes building transmissions for the Chevy Equinox and a new program for the Corvette.
The deal with GM was hard fought, as parties agreed to continue past the midnight strike deadline and executives travelled to Canada to participate.
The tentative deal with General Motors is the last agreement reached by the union with the major U.S. automakers. Earlier deals with Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also included promises of billions in new investment in Canada.
Unlike the commitments from Ford and FCA, Dias said talks with GM did not focus on electric vehicle production. One of many sticking points in the overnight talks was the future of the Oshawa plant, he said, since revamping the plant for electric vehicle production would take several years, and the union did not want to see the plant sit vacant.
“We entered into bargaining with Detroit Three in August of 2020 amid an incredible, devastating pandemic, COVID-19,” Dias said. “But we went into contract negotiations with the Detroit Three understanding that we needed to solidify the footprint for the auto industry here in Canada.”