Unifor members at the General Motors facility in Oshawa have begun manufacturing 10 million face masks after securing a contract with the Public Health Agency of Canada announced on May 26.
“Workers in Oshawa know better than most how important manufacturing jobs are to building safe and healthy communities,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “This pandemic has shown us how vital manufacturing jobs and made-in-Canada policies are.”
For years, the Ontario and federal governments pursued a shameful path that allowed Canada’s industrial capacity to be increasingly hollowed out. Unifor has consistently warned about the risks posed by weak trade and industrial policies to protect Canadian manufacturing jobs. However, governments continued to undermine Canadian manufacturing jobs by awarding procurement contracts to overseas suppliers, failing to provide made-in-Canada incentives, or place conditions on subsidies that would compel jobs to remain within the country. Only after the dramatic economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the availability of overseas medical supplies plummeted did it become apparent how vulnerable and exposed Canada is when it is overly reliant on imports of vital goods and the whim of other countries’ policies.
With governments now incentivizing domestic manufacturing partners to build medical supplies, auto and auto parts sector workers across the country are being recalled from layoffs in increasing numbers.
About 60 Unifor Local 222 members are currently working in two shifts to manufacture the surgical-grade masks and will continue to work throughout the year to provide front line health care workers with a steady and reliable source of this needed personal protective equipment.
“The highly-skilled and hard-working members of our union at General Motors Oshawa are doing an incredible service for our communities by undertaking this work,” said Colin James, Unifor Local 222 President. “Their efforts will equip people across the tens of thousands of front line workers with vital personal protective equipment built to standard right here at home.”
Since April, GM Oshawa workers have undergone rigorous training, working with new machinery and under strict physical distancing guidelines, to prepare for the task. Unifor has worked closely with General Motors to ensure health and safety protocols are sufficient to protect workers including enhanced facility cleaning and pre-entry health screening.