A decision by General Motors to close an assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., has left young workers bracing for the brunt of the impact, and panicked about their prospects in a community still reeling from recession.
Though rumours of the shutdown have been swirling for some time, Jason Wilson says he was shocked to hear about the move on the radio early Friday morning, as he was driving to the factory for his shift.
"My first thoughts were, 'Here we go again,'" said Wilson, who was laid off along with his wife when GM closed its Oshawa truck plant in 2009.
Though the 31-year-old was called back to work at what's known as the consolidated plant in 2010, by that time their financial situation had become so dire that they'd been forced to sell their house.
"I pulled off [the road] to leave a message for my wife, because I knew when she got up, she would be hearing it on the news," he said. "I wanted to comfort her and make sure she was okay. I just told her, 'Everything will be okay.'"
But as far as his job situation goes, Wilson suspects he is approaching yet another rough patch.
At the moment, GM's Oshawa automotive assembly operation, which includes the consolidated plant and the flex plant, employs about 4,300 unionized workers.
The consolidated plant, which produces the Chevrolet Impala and the Equinox, was originally scheduled to close 2008. But due to the market demand for the current generation Chevrolet Impala and the subsequent addition of the Equinox shuttle program, it has remained in business.
However, beginning in the fourth quarter of this year, the third shift at the plant will be removed, then the second shift in the first quarter of next year, General Motors of Canada Ltd. said Friday.
The Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) says the decision could result in between 1,500 and 2,000 layoffs, depending on whether another third shift is added at the flex plant, where the Chevrolet Camaro, Buick Regal and Cadillac XTS are assembled.
But CAW Local 222 president Chris Buckley said the two plants would be "levelled off" based on seniority, meaning that some workers at the consolidated plant will get to keep their jobs and move to flex plant, while some workers at the flex plant will be among those getting layoff notices.
"The most senior people stay, the most junior people are forced to the street," he said.
Wilson, who started at GM in 2002, says he has enough seniority told hold onto his job when the first cut is implemented, but is a few months shy of the seniority required to avoid a pink slip when the second cut comes into effect.
"I'll be one of the ones laid off, that's for sure," he said.
Brian Childerhose, 34, is also bracing for the sting of layoff, which he has come to know quite well. He and his wife both lost their jobs when GM closed its truck plant during the recession, shortly after their first child was born.
With poor job prospects and a new baby to care for, they, too, were ultimately forced to sell their home. But since being called back in 2010, they have been slowly rebuilding, and with another child on the way, bought another house just two weeks ago.
"They just keep kicking you, and kicking you when you're down," he said. "You just get up, and they kick you back down again."
GM is scaling back its overall operations in Canada as part of a North American restructuring begun two years ago under bankruptcy court protection.
That streamlining led to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs at the company's Canadian and U.S. operations and the shutdown of several plants.
Considering the spin-off employment created by automotive assembly jobs, Buckley estimates that the recent move will eliminate as many as 18,000 jobs, making the kind of good-paying factory gigs that have long been the backbone of the community even harder to come by.
As a fourth-generation auto worker with strong ties to the area, Wilson hopes the plant -- and their jobs -- will somehow be saved.
But if not, he has already told his wife to prepare for a new chapter in their lives.
"We will have to move either out west, or to the Prairies to find work," said Wilson. "There's just no work around here."
--WITH FILES FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS
Labour Day: A Canadian Invention
Few Canadians realize it, but Labour Day is as Canadian as maple bacon. It all began in 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to demand a nine-hour workday. When <i>Globe and Mail</i> chief George Brown had the protest organizers arrested, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald passed a law legalizing labour unions. Thus, a Conservative prime minister became a hero to the working class, and Canada became among the first countries to limit the workday, doing so decades before the U.S. The typographers' marches became an annual event, eventually being adopted by the U.S., becoming the modern day Labour Day.
The Winnipeg General Strike
The end of World War I brought social instability and economic volatility to Canada. On May 15, 1919, numerous umbrella union groups went out on strike in Winnipeg, grinding the city to a halt. Protesters were attacked in the media with epithets such as "Bolshevik" and "Bohunk," but resistance from the media and government only strengthened the movement. In June, the mayor ordered the Mounties to ride into the protest, prompting violent clashes and the death of two protesters. After protest leaders were arrested, organizers called off the strike. But the federal mediator ended up ruling in favour of the protesters, establishing the Winnipeg General Strike as the most important strike in Canadian history, and a precursor to the country's modern labour movement.
The Regina Riot
During the Great Depression, the only way for a single male Canadian to get government assistance was to join "relief camps" -- make-work projects set up by the federal government out of concern idle young men were a threat to the nation. The relief camps, with their poor work conditions, became breeding grounds for communists and other radicals. The "On-To-Ottawa Trek" was organized as a protest that would move from Vancouver across the country to Ottawa, to bring workers' grievances to the prime minister. The trek halted in Regina when Prime Minister R.B. Bennett promised to talk to protest organizers. When talks broke down, the RCMP refused to allow the protesters to leave Regina and head for Ottawa, and on June 26, 1935, RCMP riot officers attacked a crowd of protesters. More than 100 people were arrested and two killed -- one protester and one officer.
In May, 1938, unemployed men led by communist organizers occupied a post office and art gallery in downtown Vancouver, protesting over poor work conditions at government-run Depression-era "relief camps." In June, the RCMP moved in to clear out the occupiers, using tear gas inside the post office. The protesters inside smashed windows for air and armed themselves with whatever was available. Forty-two people, including five officers, were injured. When word spread of the evacuation, sympathizers marched through the city's East End, smashing store windows. Further protests against "police terror" would be held in the weeks to come.
Giant Mine Bombing
In 1992, workers at Royal Oak Mines' Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories went on strike. On September 18, a bomb exploded in a mineshaft deep underground, killing nine replacement workers. Mine worker Roger Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder. The Giant Mine closed in 2004.
The Toronto G20
The Canadian Labour Congress, representing numerous labour groups, participated in protests in Toronto during the G20 summit in June, 2010. When a handful of "Black Block" anarchists rioted through the city core, it brought an overwhelming police response that resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. More than 1,000 people were arrested, with most never charged with any crime. Numerous allegations of police brutality have been made, and the Toronto police are now the target of several multi-million dollar lawsuits. So far, two police officers have been charged with crimes relating to G20 policing, and charges against other police officers are also possible.
When Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters suggested the public "occupy Wall Street" to protest corporate malfeasance, New Yorkers took the suggestion seriously, and occupied Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. Canadians followed suit, sparking copycat occupations in all major Canadian cities in September, 2011. By December, most of the occupations had been cleared, all of them non-violently. Though the protests achieved no specific goals, they did change the political conversation in North America. What their long-term legacy will be remains to be seen.