End of the Line: Bid to Save Oshawa Assembly Fails, Workers Walk Out

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
end of the line bid to save oshawa assembly fails workers walk out

The faint hope that existed at the end of 2018 in regards to General Motors’ Oshawa, Ontario assembly plant no longer exists, except maybe in the minds of the most optimistic of union brass. On Tuesday, the automaker told Unifor, the union representing Detroit Three autoworkers in Canada, that its proposals to save the country’s oldest auto plant weren’t feasible.

GM laid out its reasoning in a letter to Unifor President Jerry Dias. As before, it all came down to cost … and the public’s dislike of cars.

“There were a variety of declining and significant economic and market factors that precipitated the November 26th announcement, including but not limited to the substantial decline in the large car market caused by market shifts from sedans to crossovers and SUVs, significantly increased material costs, the discontinuation of the products currently produced at Oshawa, and excess capacity at GM combined with very low capacity utilization at Oshawa assembly,” read the letter, signed by Gerald Johnson, GM VP of labor relations, and Travis Hester, president of GM Canada.

“These economic factors created an imperative need to consolidate operations, reduce costs and improve cash flow.”

GM says it analyzed Unifor’s proposals “and re-examined those that had been previously discussed internally,” but ultimately couldn’t find a way to allocate new product in a manner that didn’t increase GM’s cash outflow.

“Unfortunately, all Unifor’s proposals would involve substantial incremental costs and a further deterioration of GM’s competitive position,” the company wrote. “Having completed an analysis of Unifor’s proposals, GM has determined that it cannot pursue them because they would not combat the declining economic and market factors that must be addressed.”

The automaker said it planned to work with Unifor to “discuss transition strategies and supports” for the roughly 1,500 workers at the plant, which opened in 1907. In response to the letter, workers walked off the job Tuesday night.

“The workers were so upset they couldn’t work. They couldn’t believe that General Motors had announced that all their hard work was going to be rewarded by cancelling their livelihoods, by telling them the plant is closing,” Unifor plant chairman Greg Moffatt told assembled media. Those workers would return to their jobs Wednesday morning, Moffatt added.

Unifor has long railed against GM’s desire to cut costs by boosting Mexican vehicle output, and did so again yesterday. Dias previously said that new vehicles like the Mexican-built Chevrolet Blazer could easily have been allocated to Oshawa. Instead, the company’s Indiana-to-Ontario truck shuttle program (previous-gen Silverados and Sierras) will dry up before the end of the year, along with production of the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala.

“We are not calling for a boycott, but we are asking Canadian consumers to continue showing their displeasure with this decision,” said Dias following a meeting with GM brass in Detroit. Dias vows that the fight will continue.

Of course, Oshawa isn’t alone in shouldering the pain born of GM’s restructuring efforts. Joining it on the chopping block are two transmission plants in Michigan and Maryland, GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, and Lordstown Assembly in Ohio.

[Sources: Automotive News Canada, Global] [Image: General Motors]

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  • Conslaw Conslaw on Jan 09, 2019

    When you can’t find ANYTHING you can profitably build in apaid-for billion dollar plant with an experienced workforce, something is wrong.

  • Dusterdude Dusterdude on Jan 09, 2019

    Looking at this from a higher level its very unfair. Some are saying that GM don't owe the workers a living - that's true they don't, but they don't owe the Mexicans that are getting more work a living either... Best way to get GM's attn would be tariff GM vehicles sold in Canada that are made in Mexico. If GM had countered with a very lowball offer, it would been well received versus just hearing "the plant is closing". I believe that many Canadians will begin to boycott GM vehicles based on this decision.. Let's see how many GM vehicles Canadians buy this year versus 2018..so will end up as a "lose-lose". Time will tell...

  • Conundrum Can't see that the Espada chassis had much to do with the Miura. The Miura had a rear-mounted transverse V12 with the transmission and final drive all part of the engine block. So it's a bit of a stretch saying the north-south V12 and regular transmission Espada chassis was related to the Miura. It looks to be no more than an update of the 400 GT. And short and long-arm independendent suspension was hardly unique -- a '53 Chev had that in front, it was standard for years on most cars that didn't have Mac struts. The Brits call SLA suspension double wishbone, so Honda thought that sounded more mysterious than SLA and used that terminology in ads, but it's the same thing. Only a few mid '30s cars had same length upper and lower A-arms like a '36 Chev, before the obvious advantage of a short upper arm for camber control was introduced. Of course Ford used a dead beam front axle until 1949, so it was last to climb out of the stone age.Do you have a link to a reference that says the Miura and Espada chassis were related?
  • FreedMike One of the things that we here in North America often forget about Europe is that it's a COMPLETELY different world to drive in. Imagine driving in the downtown area of the city you live in 24/7, and never leaving it, and you have a decent simulation of what it's like to drive in a place like Paris, or London, or Rome - or Manhattan, for that matter. As far as the "dystopia" is concerned, I don't really see it that way. This isn't made for people living in the 'burbs - it's for urban dwellers. And for that application, this car would be about perfect. The big question is how successful the effort to provide large-scale EV charging in urban areas will be.
  • Matzel I am hoping that Vee-Dub will improve the UX and offer additional color options for the 2024 Mk8.5 refresh for Canada. Until then, I'll be quite happy with my '21 GTI performance pack. It still puts a smile on my face going through the twisty bits.
  • Stanley Steamer There have been other concepts with BYOT, that I have always thought was a great idea. Replacing bespoke parts is expensive. If I can plug in a standard 17" monitor to serve as my instrument panel, as well as speakers, radio, generic motors, batteries, I'm for it. Cheaper repair, replacement, or upgrade costs. Heck I'd even like to put in my own comfy seats. My house didn't come with a built in LaZboy. The irony is that omitting these bespoke items at the point of sale allows me to create a more bespoke car as a whole. It's hard to imagine what an empty rolling monocoque chassis would look like capable of having powertrains and accessories easily bolted on in my garage, but something like the Bollinger suv comes to mind.
  • Iam65689044 Sometimes I'm glad the French don't sell in America. This is one of those times.