by Cory Weir
GM Oshawa assembly line worker
With the Big Three automakers at the bargaining table with Unifor, there has been no shortage of public attention given to workers in Oshawa’s GM car assembly plants.
We’ve all seen the economics of what it would mean if GM Oshawa was closed: $5 billion lost from our GDP, and $1 million lost in both federal and provincial taxes. Perhaps the most startling number of all has been the 33,000 jobs hanging in the balance, which are made up by autoworkers, supply plant workers, cleaners, and countless other spinoffs created locally.
There has been an almost constant rotation in the media of the struggles faced by GM workers. Facts, figures, and personal stories all highlight our dire situation.
For the vast majority of the public interactions we have, we are met with overwhelming support from the greater community, but there are always those who think we are overpaid and have licked from the silver spoon too long.
In the Shadow of General Motors
While this is very easily disproved by taking a quick look at GM’s profit margin, wage freezes, and the downward pressure on precarious workers in the plant, there is another critical angle that we need to be talking about; one that should actually be front and centre for reasons I am about to explain.
If autoworkers have any spoon at all after all the recent tiered wage attacks, then the workers in our supply plants have been drinking soup from their cupped and weathered hands for decades.
Supply plant workers at CEVA Logistics, Syncreon, Lear, Robinson Solutions and many others not only go through their own individual bargaining cycles, but also live under the threat of massive reduction or outright plant closure when Unifor sits across the table from GM this week.
In addition to being once removed from their own fate, there are a host of other reasons that make these workers the most vulnerable with the threat of GM leaving Oshawa. At General Motors, we are outraged that Supplemental Workers start at $20.49. But at CEVA, which is housed in the same autopark, workers toil just as hard but for a maximum wage of $20.00. Our wage floor begins where their wage ceiling ends.
At CEVA there are countless health and safety concerns brought on by the downward pressure to remain competitive and repurpose the facility that houses them. Once home to GM Oshawa’s truck assembly plant, you can find 100 propane forklifts zipping around every day managing their warehousing operations. They have gone from 400 full time workers down to 188 when the Camaro left Oshawa for Michigan last year. Workers who had years of seniority were laid off and without new product at GM, these workers will never be brought back.
CEVA is federally regulated because their trucks cross the border, which means that different employment laws govern their workers. They are put on the “note program” after missing 3 days of work in the calendar year, which means they are required to provide a doctor’s note as proof of illness and pay for it themselves.
Workers are sent home early when there are production slowdowns at GM, and because they are federal, they don’t receive 4 hours of pay for their time, even though some of them have driven from hours away to show up for their shift.
Constant threats from management surrounding WSIB claims makes this a truly unforgiving place to work at. CEVA just scratches the surface of how companies maintain their contracts with General Motors. Their worker’s pay the toll, and we almost never hear about it publicly because these companies issue media gag orders preventing their workers from speaking out.
If we look at Syncreon who supplies parts for our production operations, they have a maximum wage of $18.00 and work in very similar conditions. Workers in both of these plants start at $14 an hour, which puts them below the poverty line relative to the cost of living in Oshawa.
Workers at Robinson Solutions who manage the in-plant cleaning of our assembly plant were once part of the GM unit. These jobs were some of the best high seniority jobs a worker could aspire to after 30+ years of breaking their bodies down on the assembly line. As a cost cutting measure these jobs were contracted out and to date these workers make less than half of what their jobs used to provide for someone else.
If you’ve never been in a strike situation with prospect of plant closure, I can tell you first-hand how stressful it is. On a macro level your entire future is thrown into question.
How am I going to put my kids through school? How can I retire without a pension? Will I have to uproot the entire life I’ve built here?
On a day-to-day level though, you have to ask yourself much more serious questions, such as how can I eat tomorrow? Will I be evicted from my apartment? Can I afford to keep the water running? For any worker facing this reality, times are hard and the impact it has on our mental health can be staggering.
Despite the inequality of being a tiered worker at GM, I have been able to build up a bit of a war chest to get me through the strike if we down our tools on September 20th, but the workers in our parts and supply plants who are already forced to scrape the barrel day in and day out are simply not afforded this luxury.
The names and faces of the 33,000 are the unspoken victims of this situation who face even greater pressure than we do even with our jobs on the line, and their stories absolutely need to be told. This is just one of them- together they could fill the pages of a book.