GM’s trucking back to Oshawa

Colin James, president of Unifor Local 222. Photo credit: Courtesy of Colin James

General Motors’ (GM) assembly plant is returning to Oshawa after reaching a new deal with Unifor that could bring up to $1.3 billion in investments to the city – if the deal is ratified by union members Sunday.

“It’s great news for us, it’s great news for our community, it’s great for our laid off workers, for the workers of the supplier chain unit and everyone affected,” said Colin James, president of Unifor Local 222.

The new three-year deal brings 1,400-1,700 jobs to Oshawa building Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras. The first heavy-duty truck is expected to roll off the line in January, 2022, with a second vehicle added to production in May, and potentially a third in July of the same year.

James said workers who lost their jobs when GM closed will be among those who will be returning to the plant. If a third shift is added, 2,700 jobs in total could return, almost recouping the nearly 3,000 jobs lost when the plant shut in 2019, he added.

But Unifor president, Jerry Dias said he believes there will potentially be even more.

“There’s no doubt in my mind when the dust settles it will be at least the same number. At least,” said Dias.

Dias said he’s been speaking to GM for the last year, and “extended the olive branch” after a falling out with the company in 2018 and talks have been ongoing about what to do with the plant and its “world-class paint shop” since it closed in 2019.

GM may be building trucks in Oshawa as early as 2022.
GM may be building trucks in Oshawa as early as 2022. Photo credit: Getty Images

“It took time, obviously, but the pandemic, oddly enough, created this incredible need for more vehicles,” said Dias. “People have no interest in hopping on buses, passenger trains. People have no interest in getting in an Uber or Lyft. People want to drive.”

The $1.3 billion investment will see construction start immediately at the Oshawa assembly plant, building a new body shop, assembly line, and paint shop – turning it into the only GM plant in the world with the capability to produce heavy and light-duty trucks, Dias said.

GM will begin hiring Unifor members in August of 2021 if the deal is agreed on by its workers in a virtual meeting Sunday.

Unifor is currently not disclosing wages or benefits gained in the new deal, but James is positive about what they’ve negotiated.

“We’ve made gains for our members,” said James. “To put it that way.”

Since closing the assembly line in 2019, the plant has been operating with roughly 300 employees producing parts, and recently, about 60 employees have been making N95 masks for a government contract during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nancy Shaw, CEO of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, said the deal is a great sign for Oshawa’s economy.

“I think it brings a great amount of hope and excitement for business,” said Shaw.

Shaw said surrounding businesses that make parts or supplies for the GM plant will see a boost from this new deal as well as surrounding restaurants and corner stores seeing increased traffic from having more people in the region.

“(The workers) might live in Peterborough, but they’ll stop here in Durham. They might go to a Metro, or a small grocery store, shop here and go home,” said Shaw. “You’re pouring back into the economy of Durham Region and Oshawa, and that’s what we want to see.”

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