Pick Up Trucks to the Rescue: GM’s Unifor Deal

By Jonathan Paglialunga, Staff Writer

December 20th, 2019 marked a significant endpoint for the automotive industry in Oshawa, Ontario as General Motors Corporation (GM) was set to close its doors after 100 years. This dramatic decision would have left nearly 3000 workers unemployed and sparked controversy around the ethics of employer-employee relations as CEO Mary Barra earned roughly $22 million in salary, stock awards, and pension payments in 2018.

Fast forward to November 5, 2020, where GM announced it plans to reopen its Oshawa, Ontario plant with a focus on pickup truck production. GM proposes to invest between $1 billion- $1.3 billion into the facility and hire between 1400 to 1700 hourly employees. GM has reached a tentative three-year deal with Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, which still has to be approved by workers.

The approval of this deal would allow GM to reopen the Oshawa assembly line for the production of various pickup truck models, including Silverados and Sierras, nearly 11 months after the plant was idled due to GM’s plant restructuring plan. 

According to GM Canada President, Scott Bell, “Pickups are GM’s largest and most important market segment in Canada and across the continent. They also help GM fund our transition to the electric, autonomous, and highly connected future we see ahead.” 

It appears that this potential deal would work towards increasing employment significantly as production lines continue to increase in the near future. According to Unifor President Jerry Dias, “[this deal] could create about 2,000 jobs after vehicle production restarts in January 2022, with a second shift in March 2022 and the work on the second vehicle beginning in May 2022. Up to 2,500 workers could be needed if a third shift is added in July 2022.”

This proposed deal will also have a direct impact on other Canadian cities as well as the overall economy in addition to job creation. Dias believes that union jobs in St. Catharines, Ontario, and Woodstock, Ontario are secure under the tentative three-year deal. GM has agreed to invest $109 million and $500 thousand to secure jobs in each city respectively.

Although the goal for many other automobile companies is the immediate focus on innovation in the form of electric and environmentally conscious vehicles, GM’s goal in revitalizing the Oshawa plant has both short-term and long-term benefits. By focusing on pickup truck production, GM can resume production relatively quickly and focus on electric vehicles at a later date since the transition to electric could take several years, which would leave the plant vacant.

Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Vic Fedeli, and Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford stated, “Investments like these are a clear sign that the steps our government is taking to support Ontario’s auto sector, and the thousands of jobs that rely on it, are working.” The statements delivered by these politicians display Ontario’s resilience and commitment to the automobile industry in the midst of a global pandemic.

The approval of the Unifor deal with GM will spark the rejuvenation of Ontario’s automobile production, creating numerous positive economic impacts that will diffuse into various other provincial cities. In a chain reaction, the injection of United States money into Ontario will help support the Canadian economy, especially during the challenges brought forward by the COVID-19 pandemic now, as well as for years to come. 

Photo by Revolt, Unsplash

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