/After century of history, last GM truck rolls off the Oshawa line

After century of history, last GM truck rolls off the Oshawa line

After more than a century and 20 million autos, the last GM truck rolls off the production line in Oshawa, Ontario Wednesday.

Oshawa’s auto-making roots go back to 1867, the year of Canada’s Confederation, and the founding of a carriage company by the McLaughlin family. GM has been producing vehicles at the plant since 1918, making it the company’s oldest existing assembly plant.

Unifor president Jerry Dias holds a press conference outside the Oshawa GM plant on Monday.

Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

The business survived two world wars and the Depression, and grew into one of the world’s largest auto-manufacturing facilities with tens of thousands of employees. It even survived GM’s bankruptcy. But the Oshawa assembly plant could not weather two other inexorable forces: the emergence of low-wage Mexico as an auto-making powerhouse and GM’s bet on electric vehicles.

Prince George, Duke of Kent, tour the General Motors plant during his visit to Oshawa, Ont., on Aug. 23, 1941.

Archival Collection at the Oshawa Museum

The shutdown of Oshawa assembly is part of a reorganization that trims excess production as auto sales soften and GM shifts resources to focus on electric and autonomous vehicles. The overhaul cut a net 11,000 workers across the company. The Oshawa plant had been making Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.

Starting next year, the site will be used for parts manufacturing and a test track for advanced technology vehicles. Of the roughly 2,200 employees GM says are affected, 1,600 are taking buyout packages, including 1,200 who will retire on defined benefit pensions, giving them a guaranteed income for life.

About 300 employees will be able to work at the new operations and about 100 have transferred to GM facilities elsewhere in Ontario. Two hundred are hoping to be recalled, either in Oshawa or elsewhere in Ontario, and will receive layoff benefits in the meantime, according to Jennifer Wright, a spokeswoman with GM Canada.

A General Motors Co. worker reacts at Unifor Union Hall in Oshawa after learning on Nov. 26, 2018 the plant would close. GM later agreed to keep the factory open on a limited capacity.

Cole Burston/Bloomberg

A group of workers is lobbying the government to take over the plant and convert it to electric-vehicle production. The employment losses rise to about 5,000 when hundreds of temporary part-time workers are taken into account, along with over 1,000 outsourced GM jobs, and more than 1,000 supplier jobs, according to Tony Leah, a spokesman for Green Jobs Oshawa and chairman of the political action committee for Unifor Local 222.

For its part, GM says the creation of an autonomous testing track — named after Colonel Sam McLaughlin — will continue the company’s legacy in Oshawa. The automaker is also boosting its headcount of software engineers in Markham, Ontario, about 50 kilometres to the west of Oshawa.



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