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General Motors Oshawa Plant Closure: Jobs On The Line, As Young Workers Brace For Impact

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OSHAWA GM PLANT LAYOFFS
Engine Specialist Jennifer Souch assembles a Camaro engine at the GM factory in Oshawa, Ontario on Friday, June 10, 2011. The Canadian Auto Workers union says General Motors is going ahead with plans to close its consolidated plant in Oshawa. Some of the production of the new Chevy Impala will shift to the flex assembly plant which currently makes the Chevy Camaro, Buick Regal and soon, the Cadillac XTS. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn | CP

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

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