Laid Off


The news has come out that 2,600 hourly employees and 300 contract and salaried employees are going to be laid off in 2019 by GM at their Oshawa plant in Durham Region Ontario.

This news isn’t good of course for those people and their immediate families. Nor is it welcomed news for the many businesses that both feed the GM plant with raw materials and supplies, and those who run businesses in the after sales markets. Think too of the impact on coffee trucks, safety shoe companies, clothing retailers, tire manufacturers etc. The ripple effect is going to go far beyond the 2,900 employees referenced as being directly laid off.

However, people are laid off on a daily basis not only in Oshawa, but in communities right around the globe. Just last week I had news of a friend being laid off in the coming year by a large Ontario hospital. You’d think that working for a large organization for 18 years would give a person a sense of security, but that’s just no longer the case.

There’s a lot of sympathy and empathy for those Oshawa GM employees. First of all, the number being laid off is a large one and it’s the finality of the decision; closing the entire plant for good – that’s making this story unique. However, a laid off employee is a laid off employee no matter where they work, no matter how many others are laid off with them. So imagine how a person must feel who is laid off but doesn’t get the press covering their impending departure; who doesn’t get the Province’s Premier announcing his government will do all it can to help out. That is something GM employees are getting that others are not.

Just as it shouldn’t be about who has a worse situation, those laid off by one employer or another, it shouldn’t stand to reason either that one employee gets more help to recover. Losing your income and finding yourself still having to meet your financial commitments is the same no matter which employer is laying you off. Stress, anxiety, fears, uncertainty; these are universally experienced.  When laid off for reasons beyond your control, you go through the same stages as others – shock at the news, anger, bargaining, acceptance and eventually moving on. There’s no timetable dictating how long you’ll spend in any one phase, and you might go back and forth too from one to another.

In the Oshawa GM case, it shocks and stings because this community has largely developed an identity as a community built on the automotive trade. Removing a key contributor in that industry robs the community at large of some of that identity. This happens all over the world where a major employer in a community pulls out and relocates somewhere new or shuts down altogether. Some towns have dried up in the past when this happened and only rusted buildings remain as a testament to what once was.

If there’s a silver lining in this – and I’ll accept that right now not a lot of people want to look for a silver lining – there’s reason to hope. Not hope for a reversal of GM’s decision as this doesn’t seem to be a ploy to get more government bail-outs or interest free loans. No, the positives lie elsewhere – potentially.

First of all, autoworkers have experienced lay-offs in the past. This is something many actually anticipate and to some degree plan for. This is different of course; the entire plant shut down for good. I get that. However, the industry shuts down lines every so often when producing a new vehicle, or having over production and so many won’t be laid off for the first time for reasons beyond their control. This previous experience with being laid off could potentially have instilled in many of those workers some resiliency; the ability to bounce back quicker than those in other industries who have no experience with ever having been laid off.

There’s an opportunity here too for competitors in the industry to bring onboard some of these highly skilled, dedicated and well-trained employees. They’ve got a stellar work attitude, up-to-date experience and they work with attention to detail making quality products. An employer might just look at these people and realize the potential benefit to their own business by holding a job fair or two.

The plant itself sits on some prime real estate in Durham Region. Not many companies need or can manage a facility the size of the GM property, but for those with vision, here’s a functioning, highly efficient and state-of-the-art facility for some other manufacturer to consider taking over. It could come with a well-trained and productive group of people at the ready too.

For some, the news will actually be the push they’ve needed to move on from the employer. It isn’t impossible to imagine that some of those affected might have considered other lines of work as people do in any business do from time-to-time. Perhaps for some, this was their wake-up call. A year of employment left and time to brush up the résumé, look for what’s next, and the real motivation to get serious and figure out some career change. Not all who get laid off have the luxury of a year of employment to do so.

Here’s to hoping those laid off here and elsewhere land on their feet.