by Emily Leedham
To address the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other medical equipment such as ventilators, workers are demanding former General Motors plant in Oshawa be converted to produce these supplies to support frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a dire shortage of that equipment, it’s being rationed,” Michael Hurley, President of the Hospital Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said in an online press conference today. “Protective equipment like the N95 mask is not readily available or available in situations that any of the healthcare unions would consider necessary to actually protect the workers. ”
Speakers at the joint-press conference were: Patty Coates, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), Michael Hurley, President of the Hospital Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), James Hutt, Programming Manager at The Leap, and Tony Leah and Rebecca Keetch organizers with Green Jobs Oshawa.
“The reason there is such a supply problem is the Ontario government did not plan for this eventuality,” Hurley adds. “They did not order enough equipment, they have shortages of the N95 and other protective equipments, and now with all jurisdictions around the world competing, they’re finding it very difficult to get this equipment.”
Personal Protective Equipment items in need include N95 masks, gloves, gowns. Other medical supplies in shortage include testing kits and ventilators.
Hurley says 69 of Ontario’s long-term care centres have COVID-19 outbreaks and 15% of all COVID-19 cases are in Ontario long term care .
Rebecca Keetch, an organizer with Green Jobs Oshawa, has been working with the community to propose public ownership for the Oshawa plant since GM shut it down in 2019 after 100 years in operation.
“Green Jobs Oshawa is calling on the Prime Minister to immediately order the production of essential medical equipment and supplies at the Oshawa GM complex and related part supplier facilities,” she said. “This should be the first step towards establishing a publicly owned manufacturing centre that could supply strategically necessary goods in times of crisis.”
Keetch also points out it is not only healthcare workers who need Personal Protective Equipment, but all other front line service workers, such as transit drivers and grocery store workers.
“We can also use a publicly-owned manufacturing hub in Oshawa to prepare for the looming climate crisis,” she adds. “The lack of preparation for this pandemic is a stark warning that a Green new Deal must be launched now.”
Patty Coates, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, believes the government has an opportunity to collaborate with workers in transforming the Oshawa plant.
“This is good for the community of Oshawa, this is good for Ontario, this is good for Canada…I call on all levels of government to make this happen.”
James Hutt, Senior Program Manager at the Leap, points out that Oshawa has yet to recover from the GM closure.
“We know that the Oshawa complex – which is quite frankly one of the largest plants in North America, one of the largest auto manufacturing plants – it’s sitting about 90% empty right now. Ninety per cent of that space is going to waste ever since General Motors pulled up after 100 years of Oshawa and relocated, putting about 15,000 out of work: 5,000 direct people at the plant and 10,000 people in Southern Ontario.”
Hurley believes government intervention is needed to manufacture these supplies in an effective and timely way.
“That would be such a fantastic development, if we used the unused capacity and turned it around – which we could do quickly – to direct this equipment to the front line.”
Watch the full press conference here: