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On the front line: Oshawa GM worker's family braces for the worst

(Photo courtesy Dexter Brown)

As the son of an autoworker, I grew nervous seeing General Motors and Oshawa trending on Twitter Sunday night. My dad worked for GM for decades, with much of that time at the Oshawa plant, so I braced myself for the news.

Unfortunately, the headlines were far worse than I could have ever imagined: Reports were saying that GM was set to announce the closure of its Oshawa plant on Monday.

While the headline was alarming, after the slow, steady decay of the company’s workforce in the region, it wasn’t a terrible surprise. It was just a bit surreal to see it then and there — seemingly out of the blue.

And there was the timing: My dad was planning to retire next year after 30 years with the company.

With production at the plant expected to wind down completely at the end of 2019, there’s a chance the closure won’t affect him and his plans for retirement, but make no mistake, the loss of jobs, should the plant shutter, will hit the community hard and deep.

(CBC)

GM, although a small fraction of its size when it was in its peak, still is the core of the city. It’s so embedded in its DNA that even the local OHL hockey team, the Oshawa Generals, is named after the company.

It brought jobs and people to the city. And in fact, GM is why my dad lives in the community. He lived in Toronto for much of his life in Canada, but moved to Whitby, a neighbouring town to Oshawa, a little over a decade ago to cut on the long commute times between the plant in Oshawa and home in Toronto.

But my dad’s roots with GM began long before that. It was the late ‘80s when he was new to Canada from Jamaica. Through the help of a family friend, he was able to land a job at GM in Scarborough. He jumped at the opportunity, having the dream of working for the world’s largest automaker since he was young.

And the rest, my dad would like to say is history, but the truth is that the company ultimately became the family’s lifeline.

I was likely oblivious to it when I was young. Back then I was more proud to say my dad worked at GM. There was just something about seeing all the cars on the road and knowing my dad helped make all that happen that inspired me. I was captivated by what he did and absorbed as much as I could have with my time with him.

It didn’t dawn on me until much later that without GM, I likely wouldn’t have had such of a comfortable life growing up. For every life like mine and my parents, GM provided the same for thousands of others and in turn, those folks provided jobs for others in the community.

But over time, the number of autoworkers GM employed waned. That Scarborough plant my dad worked in was shuttered, leaving him with a handful of difficult choices. He ultimately chose to continue with GM in Oshawa. But there, too, the workforce dwindled.

While my dad is set to retire, because of GM’s decision, there will likely be other autoworkers forced to make a difficult career choice, much like my dad did when the Scarborough plant closed.

Although my dad didn’t seem terribly surprised by the news of the Oshawa plant’s closure when I broke it to him Sunday night, having seen the company downsize several times before, he still has a glimmer of hope that some of the jobs and the plant may be saved.

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