General Motors Canada has changed their minds about closing the Oshawa Assembly plant. Instead of shutting it down, they will invest $170 million to convert it into a facility for stamping, sub-assembly and autonomous vehicle testing.
The conversion would save 300 jobs, GM Canada president Travis Hester announced on Wednesday. However, that would still leave 2,300 employees out of work.
GM revealed last November that it intended to close the Oshawa plant by the end of 2019. The decision was controversial, as it would not only impact thousands of jobs, but also potentially hurt the Durham Region housing market.
However, Hester was adamant in his announcement that the converted plant would have the potential to attract more jobs. “GM plans to be one of Oshawa’s leading companies and employers for many decades to come,” he said at the news conference.
Unifor national president Jerry Dias, who was also at the conference, strongly agreed that expansion is on the horizon.
“This announcement, though it might not have a lot of jobs as we sit here today in May, there’s going to be a heck of a lot more in December,” Dias said. “There will be more next year. There will be more the year after as we continue to attract work.”
Although some workers agreed that saving 300 jobs is a positive thing, they also argued that it’s still not enough.
“I’m going to repeat what Jerry Dias said, it’s great they’re giving us something,” Aaron Cochrane from Port Perry told Oshawa This Week. “But where are the majority of the people going to go? Not everyone can pick up their families and move.”
Before the conference, a memo sent to union members was obtained by the Canadian Press. It noted that GM plans to increase severance packages for those who are laid off at the end of this year. Hester said he expected 1,300 workers to take retirement packages. Some employees will also be able to transfer to other GM plants.
The Oshawa Assembly plant was recently being eyed by developers as the next hot spot for real estate. While it appears the property won’t be turned into a mixed-use space, at least it will continue to create more jobs for the people of Oshawa in the future, which was what Mayor Dan Carter had previously hoped.
Following GM Canada’s announcement, Carter said he was “optimistic” about the company’s plans to convert the plant. However, he understood the upset among many of the Oshawa plant workers.
“I understand that nothing short of 2,500 jobs would really be where we should be striving for, I understand their anxiety and I understand their disappoint and their anxiousness as to what awaits them,” he said. “My job is to make sure investment and opportunity are created in the community and my job is to continue to strive to make sure everybody who wants to have a job in our community has a job.”