‘Are you ready to get their attention?’ Unifor workers rally for GM Oshawa

Jerry Dias, Unifor national president, speaks at the solidarity rally for GM Oshawa workers at Dieppe Gardens, Windsor, January 11, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Union members from across Ontario met in downtown Windsor Friday morning to deliver a strong message to General Motors.

At least a thousand members of Unifor and other union members gathered at Dieppe Gardens for a loud rally in support of GM Canada’s Oshawa workers, who will lose their jobs at the end of this year when the Detroit-based automaker closes that plant down, along with four others in the US.

The rally took place underneath the pole that flies the Great Canadian Flag during warmer weather, and within sight of GM’s headquarters across the river at Detroit’s Renaissance Center. Executives with the automaker were scheduled to hold an investors meeting at the headquarters, and union members wanted to make sure that their message was being heard loud and clear across the river.

“Are you ready to get their attention?” shouted Unifor national president Jerry Dias to the cheering, chanting crowd. “We’re going to get your attention. This plant isn’t closing. It’s not closing! Do you hear that, General Motors?”

Dias was the rally’s main speaker, and he not only pointed out that GM’s Canadian workers helped support GM through its near-bankruptcy a decade ago, but that GM also promised them there would be no plant closures during the term of their current collective bargaining agreement.

The automaker announced that 2019 was shaping up to be one of its most successful years ever, and Dias said closing the Oshawa plant makes no sense.

“If 2019 is going to be better than 2018, then why in the heck are you closing five assembly plants, including our assembly plant in Oshawa?” asked Dias.

The rally attracted speakers from across Ontario, including Unifor Local 222 President Colin James from Oshawa, plant Chairman Greg Moffatt, OPSEU President Smokey Thomas, and Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy, who served as master of ceremonies. The crowd also heard from Oshawa employee Jackie Sobil, who described the added stress she and her boyfriend, another GM employee, must now endure.

Local lawmakers in attendance included NDP Members of Parliament Brian Masse of Windsor West and Cheryl Hardcastle of Windsor-Tecumseh, along with MPPs Lisa Gretzky of Windsor-West and Taras Natyshak of Essex. The mention of the names of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, and GM CEO Mary Barra generated boos from the crowd.

Dias said the union will be planning to make its case known again next week in Detroit, as the 2019 North American International Auto Show gets underway at Cobo Center.

Unifor has presented several ideas to General Motors to keep the Oshawa plant operational. The automaker rejected them, believing that each option would be too expensive.

Despite the criticism it is facing over the planned closure of Oshawa, General Motors has promised that it will not rest until every soon-to-be-laid off employee is taken care of. GM said it remains committed to Oshawa by keeping its Canadian headquarters there, as well as its Oshawa Technical Centre. GM also said it has 5,000 employees that will remain in Canada once the idling is complete and that it has spent millions of dollars helping the affected Oshawa workers access transition services.