GM holds Oshawa hostage after bailout & concessions

By a GM Oshawa assembly line worker

Prime Minister Trudeau and Ontario Premier Wynne in Oshawa on June 10 celebrating 1000 new jobs while 2500 others hang in the balance.
Prime Minister Trudeau and Ontario Premier Wynne in Oshawa on June 10 celebrating 1000 new jobs while 2500 others hang in the balance.

On Friday, June 10th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a celebratory visit to Oshawa, Ontario for the announcement of 1,000 new Canadian engineering jobs– an announcement that drew both praise and ire from the production workers of General Motors’ car and feeder plants, who find themselves in a potential strike position with about 30,000 auto and spin-off jobs hanging in the balance of contract negotiations slated for the fall of 2016.

Trudeau was met by Unifor National President Jerry Dias, Unifor Local 222 President Colin James, and top Canadian GM executives at their engineering headquarters for the official announcement. As his motorcade arrived, a small group of active and retired autoworkers gathered out front, calling on the multibillion dollar auto giant to commit product for the Oshawa assembly plant, which has no dedicated product beyond 2017.

Bailouts & concessions

GM workers, retirees and Oshawa residents let their opinions be known during the June 10 visit by Trudeau and Wynne.
GM workers, retirees and Oshawa residents let their opinions be known during the June 10 visit by Trudeau and Wynne.

While some officials questioned their frustration in light of this positive announcement, their message was clear:

These new jobs are great, but we deserve much more. General Motors was bailed out to the tune of $10 billion by Canadian taxpayers back in 2009, and in return we are owed new product in the Oshawa assembly plant.

They’re absolutely right– GM does owe us, and big time.

Facing bankruptcy in the wake of recession and mismanagement, the company was shocked back to life by the very workers and citizens they are leaving in limbo today. Not only was GM bailed out, but their workforce suffered massive concessions to keep the company competitive during the downturn, weathering a decade of frozen wages and clawed back benefits while bitterly agreeing to the introduction of Supplemental Workforce Employees– an underclass of precarious, tiered wage workers without the same benefits or job security as full seniority workers. The company has also routinely made use of FTPT’s, which stands for- and I wish I was making this up- Full Time Temporary Part Time workers. Confused? You should be.

In addition to these concessions and job-title oxymorons, GM retirees were forced into giving up their PCOLA ( Pension Cost of Living Allowance) and many are now being left behind by inflation after giving their best years to GM with the promise of a dignified retirement.

GM’s hostage bargaining

13457659_10153551870131960_1304819956_nTo date, the official position of GM is that it will not allocate new product to Oshawa until after a new collective agreement is reached this fall. While some might call this a smart negotiation tactic, for Oshawa and the surrounding community this truly is a hostage situation.

An independent economic impact study commissioned by Unifor and released in 2015 has pegged the loss from plant closure at around $5Bn from Ontario’s GDP with $1Bn in lost revenue both provincially and federally. In this age of neoliberal austerity, our social safety net needs every dime it can get, and especially if 30,000 local workers could find themselves jobless in the next few years.

Borrowed time? Time to strike?

This is just another saga in the greedy, ruthless history of General Motors, who announced the closure of the Oshawa Truck Plant mere weeks after workers ratified a collective agreement back in 2008. A once burgeoning workforce of over 23,000 in GM Oshawa alone has seen itself reduced to just over 2,000 production and trade workers today. Despite the announcement of 1,000 engineering jobs- of which roughly 300 will be local- there is very little on the horizon to suggest that the bleeding will stop any time soon. Over 1,000 jobs were just lost in 2015 when the Camaro left town for production in Michigan.

With the TPP looming, it looks as though manufacturing in Ontario is living on borrowed time, and our auto industry is amongst the first on the Liberal chopping block. Facing so much uncertainty, only a few things can be said for sure:

The struggle for the future of autoworkers in Oshawa will be a no-holds-barred ditch fight against an ungrateful corporate giant with no conscience or sense of public responsibility. If the federal government doesn’t respond to union lobbying efforts in a meaningful way, there will be another historic fight for Local 222 and the surrounding community.

Unifor National President Jerry Dias has said there will be a strike if no product is announced before bargaining begins. Meanwhile, the anger and frustration of production workers is becoming palpable on the shop floor, and a ‘strike’ may turn out to be an understatement.

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6 thoughts on “GM holds Oshawa hostage after bailout & concessions

  1. People open your eyes and realize if GM in Oshawa goes away….Remember Flint Michigan snd how all these people walked away from their homes etc as there was no work…no chance of surviving there. ..That is what is happening in Oshawa. The ripple effect will be devastating to ALL CKMMJNITIES/BUSINESSES around this city….It is time to hold GM accountable to their dirty dealings…Do not end up like Flint….Also the union needs to get their greedy hands out of the pot and reach out to the members ALK MEMBERS. that helped CAW be a string union because now it is a free for all for the majority of the people in that union. .. NOT ALL but many….

  2. Let me be very clear. GM doesn’t owe you or anyone for that matter, anything. End of story. The inflated wages and golden handshake pensions are certainly dated.

    1. Let me be very clear. GM is nothing without its workforce. And it also wouldn’t be in business without public bailouts. The wages, benefits and pensions of the autoworkers, not to mention the company’s profits in auto are the result of decades of collective bargaining and fighting the company tooth and nail, not golden handshakes. To say decent wages and benefits are achieved any other way is wrong and stupid. End of story.

    2. so , who exactly is going to afford a G.M. products JOHN ? cost to build a new vehicle has dropped big time – of course G.M. has passed that on to their loyal customers – lmao

  3. G.M. should Thank the Govt. for bailout loan ,, Also G.M. should have to repay loan just like we would have to on a bank loan,, A working contract is law abiding witch Retires had and parts of it taken away after retires did their part of the contract Their contract deal they were given should remain as written at time and carry on for life time as written ,, Retirees keep G.M. running in Osh and should get all that was promise in contract at that time ,,

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