General Motors is going ahead with plans to close its consolidated plant in Oshawa, Ont., in what its union calls a "disgusting" move it says will eliminate 2,000 jobs directly and many thousands more indirectly.
"Obviously it's devastating news," Chris Buckley, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 222 said in an interview after the union received confirmation notice Friday of the pending closure.
"Over 2,000 GM workers are finding out today that they with lose their job as of June 2013.
"And, when you look at the spinoff employment created as a result of auto assembly, there will be more like 18,000 jobs that will be lost as a result of General Motors' terrible decision today."
Buckley said he's "absolutely disgusted" with the move, saying in 2009 CAW members, both active and retired, were forced to make significant sacrifices in order to save the company.
"And this is GM's way of rewarding our members," he said.
Besides the consolidated plant, GM also has a flex assembly plant in Oshawa that is getting a share of the production of the new Chevy Impala, which is also being built at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant in Michigan.
The flex line currently employs 2,000 people assembling the Chevy Camaro, Buick Regal and soon, the Cadillac XTS.
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.
"As previously announced the consolidated line will cease at the end of scheduled life cycle for the current generation Impala. This is currently anticipated to occur in June 2013," the company said.
However, Buckley said the union isn't giving up on the plant, arguing both the federal and Ontario governments should get involved because they remain major shareholders to the tune of $8 billion as a result of government bailouts of the auto industry.
"So I challenge both our federal and provincial governments to join with the Canadian Autos Workers in attempting to reverse GM's decision," he said.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said while the closure was expected it is "disappointing," and suggested he'd be willing to work with GM to extend the facility's lifespan.
"It had been originally scheduled to close in 2008. We've been very grateful for the extension to this point in time," McGuinty said in Ottawa.
"If there's any way at all possible that we might work with GM to extend that even further obviously we'd be more than pleased to consider that."
Buckley said the addition of the Impala at the flex plant means that, at best, a third shift would be added, raising employment at the plant to 2,500.
"And that would be consumer driven," he said, meaning any additional work would depend on the vehicle's popularity.
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.
Buckley said it would be the union's "top priority" to maintain the consolidated plant when it heads into collective bargaining this summer.
"I'm not feeling very comfortable as of today that General Motors will entertain our idea of keeping the plant open but we're not going to stop pressing them," he added.
GM has been 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.
In Canada, GM has already closed a truck plant in Oshawa and a transmission factory in Windsor, Ont.
GM Canada currently employs more than 10,000 people across the country. In its heyday, the automaker had more than twice that total and major operations in Windsor, Oshawa and St. Catharines, Ont.
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.