Open Letter to Premier Doug Ford on GM Oshawa | The Ontario Federation of Labour

Open Letter to Premier Doug Ford on GM Oshawa

Dear Premier Ford,

Premier, I write today amidst growing concern in my community. The recent announcement that General Motors plans to close the Oshawa assembly plant in 2019 has hit my community hard.  GM’s decision will have a devastating impact on GM workers, their families, and the city of Oshawa, but will also affect thousands more across Durham Region, and the province of Ontario.

I was born and raised in Oshawa. I represented autoworkers and fought on their behalf for27 years. I know how General Motors operates. I can tell you, this decision isn’t final until the last vehicle rolls off the production line, and until that happens, we must do everything we can in the fight to save Oshawa GM.

Like many in our city, I was disheartened to learn of the impending plant closure in Oshawa. As rumours began to circulate on November 25, I spent much of the night fielding calls from former colleagues and concerned workers, I spoke to the leadership of the union. The following day, it was reported that you had already spoken to GM, and they told you, “the ship has already left the dock”. Premier, we expect more from you than to cower at the first hurdle. Had I done that over my many years of bargaining against GM they would have left Oshawa a long-time ago, but they did not.

This fight is far from over.

On December 2, 2018, you made a promise to the workers and families affected by this devastating news. You said, “the fight for these workers is a fight to ensure they can find new jobs…we’re going to fight for you, and we’re going to fight like you’ve never seen before.”

Premier, I join with the many affected, and take issue with the suggestion that what these workers need is “new jobs”. What these workers and their families, our community, and our province needs – is a commitment from General Motors to continue producing vehicles in Oshawa.

As noted, we are not just talking about the direct negative impact on the GM workers in Oshawa. For every production job at GM, there are up to nine other spin-off jobs, in feeder plants and auto parts manufacturing, vehicle dealerships, all of which are also at stake. The domino effect of this decision reaches beyond the auto sector. In fact, the United Way Durham Region alone is facing an estimated $1 million shortfall when their organization factors in the impact of the GM closure. That means that those in our communities that benefit from their work – the least advantaged, those in greatest need of help – will also be adversely affected.

If as you say, your government has committed to “fight like you’ve never seen before,” for these workers and their families, to ensure those words are not just an empty promise, I’m asking that you explore and act with all available tools at your disposal.

GM workers have done their part. They did what was asked of them. These workers and retirees made concessions at the bargaining table to shelter and protect GM during the lean years.

The Oshawa assembly plant is the pride of GM’s manufacturing facilities. These workers have won numerous awards for their expertise, dedication and continued hard work. They have been recognized for delivering excellence across quality, efficiency and competitiveness measures.

The trophy cabinet is full.

Ontarians and Canadians have done their part too. During the auto crisis, governments extended a lifeline to General Motors when it appeared they were on the brink of bankruptcy. In 2009, as the financial crisis decimated vehicle sales, both GM and Chrysler pleaded with governments in the United States and Canada to keep them afloat. We did. In total, the federal and Ontario governments contributed $13.7-billion to the two companies, in addition to a $66-billion bailout from the United States.

Governments of the day came to their aid, and together we saved General Motors. Now, we must demand of GM, as they did of us – save GM in Oshawa.

Things are different this time. GM’s decision to close the Oshawa assembly plant was not announced during the height of a market crisis as it was in 2009. These are booming times in the auto industry. GM sales in the U.S. are expected above 17 million units, with Canadian sales set to top 2 million units, once again this year. Unlike their bleak financial picture a decade ago, today GM is quite profitable. It earned $6 billion USD in profits in the first three quarters of 2018 alone.

General Motors has a multitude of options and alternatives to explore as they restructure and transform for continued success. Closing their existing Canadian operations must not be one of those options.

Premier, if you want to stand with these workers, you must fight for a commitment from GM to continue producing world class vehicles in Oshawa.

Your government, in step with your federal counterparts, must consider all economic policies at your disposal. Whether it be import tariffs, or the creation of incentives designed to encourage and drive investment into developing and emerging markets, like green technologies – once again, governments must act, and quickly.

If GM wants access to Ontario’s market, they should make vehicles in Ontario.

You can take immediate steps to reinstate the Green Energy Act. Your government’s decision to scrap several environmental policies, such as the rebate program for Ontarians’ purchasing electric and hydrogen vehicles, is sending the wrong message to GM.  Cancelling this program means the U.S. now has more generous incentives for electric vehicle sales than Ontario does.

By ensuring Ontario is ‘open for business’ in the estimated $26-trillion global clean economy – we can ensure that Oshawa, and in fact all of Ontario, is poised to play a leading role in the development and production of emergent future technologies. GM has made it no secret that they are transforming their business to meet the future demand of green, electric and autonomous vehicles.

Ontario too must transform. What better place to lead this charge than in Oshawa?

In addition to a world-class workforce and new investments by GM in engineering facilities in Markham and their Oshawa Regional Design and Engineering Centre, Oshawa offers exciting R&D and production potential.

When you factor in the contribution of thought leaders emerging from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and their state-of-the-art facilities like the Automotive Centre of Excellence – it is clear that Oshawa and Ontario, in general, can become a leading destination for the design and manufacture of the vehicles of the future.

Premier, I call on you to do everything in your power to demand GM reverse its decision to close the Oshawa assembly plant. This is not the first time that GM has threatened to cease production in Oshawa, we resisted previous attempts, it wasn’t easy. Nothing worth fighting for ever is. There is too much at stake for GM workers, our community at large, and those employed in the auto sector across Ontario – to not try everything at your disposal to save GM Oshawa.

We must not allow General Motors to close its Oshawa assembly plant. They must understand that should they follow through with this decision, the consequences for their actions will be swift, costly, and detrimental to their ability to sell vehicles in Ontario, indeed, across Canada.

Take it from me, General Motors will feel the pain of this decision. The backlash in my community towards GM is growing and will have dire consequences for the future profitability and viability of General Motors in Canada. This doesn’t have to be the case. We can find a win-win solution.

Premier Ford, you were elected to lead our Province. Now is the time to join with us, exercise your power to influence, and take a leadership role in joining the fight to keep GM in Oshawa.

I eagerly await your response, and on behalf of my entire community, suggest that you could benefit from the expertise of the workers who have negotiated with this company for the last 30 years. I hope that you will work with us to fight GM on their decision to end vehicle production in Oshawa.

The devastating impact of GM’s decision on these workers and their families, the city of Oshawa, the region, and the province requires deliberate and sustained action by our governments, commensurate with the challenge ahead.