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'Hard to deal with': GM workers grieve end of production at Oshawa, Ont., plant

Some of the roughly 2,600 direct employees at the GM plant in Oshawa, Ont., are expected to produce the final vehicles today, though the exact timeline could still shift.

General Motors started producing cars in the southern Ontario city in 1918

At its peak in the 1980s, GM's Oshawa plant employed some 23,000 people and could produce as many as 730,000 cars and trucks a year. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

General Motors is winding down production at its Oshawa assembly plant as an era of vehicle production for the southern Ontario city prepares to come to a close.

Some of the roughly 2,600 direct employees produced the final vehicles today. Shortly after 2 p.m. ET, what may be the plant's final pickup truck rolled along the assembly line.

The assembly line sits empty behind one final pickup. (John Sandeman)

Roy Eagen, who works in the frame and chassis section of the sprawling 10-million-square-foot plant, says he watched as the last truck passed through.

"It was rough. It was pretty depressing. The people all gathered there, and we kind of held each other together and proudly stood there and watched her go down the line," he said.

"The last few people that were there were building what they had to build."

Roy Eagen, 63, said he 'had a good run' at the GM Oshawa plant. 'It's the end of a big era,' he added. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The closure has been a year in the making.

GM announced in November 2018 it would effectively shut down the plant along with four others in the U.S. as part of a wider restructuring.

In May, the company committed $170 million to convert the plant to a stamping and sub-assembly operation and keep about 300 jobs, as well as convert part of the complex into an advanced technology test track.

This is part of the fabric of our community. This is going to be a loss.- Rebecca Keetch, 4th-generation GM worker

The end of production will have a ripple effect among the workers and suppliers who rely on the plant, as well as the wider community in Oshawa.

"This place means a lot to me," said Rob Osborne, a third-generation line worker at the facility.

"But it's not just the plant itself. It's the people. Knowing that I'm going to walk out and not see a lot of the people I worked with, that is hard to deal with," he continued.

"We'll deal with in our own way, I guess, and move on."

The closure of much of the sprawling plant will ultimately affect about 5,000 unionized and non-unionized employees at GM and associated businesses that manufacture parts used in the facility. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

'I couldn't sleep last night'

GM started producing cars in the city in 1918 and opened the Oshawa assembly plant in 1953. At its peak in the 1980s, it employed some 23,000 people, and could produce as many as 730,000 cars and trucks a year.

Rebecca Keetch is a fourth-generation worker who has been at the plant for 16 years. One of her great-grandfathers, both of her grandfathers, one grandmother and her mother were all employed by GM as well.

Rebecca Keetch is angry about the huge impact the GM closure will have on Oshawa. 1:01

She went in for her last scheduled shift early Wednesday morning.

"I couldn't sleep last night," she told CBC News. "This is part of the fabric of our community. This is going to be a loss."

Keetch said that more than any other emotion, she's feeling angry today.

"A lot of people are calling this a sad day, but I think this is an outrageous day.

"I think it's outrageous that GM is abandoning this community and they are doing this in a time of record profits in the billions of dollars."

Keetch expects it to be an emotional day for workers now facing an uncertain future.

"I think there's going to be people crying, and I think there's going to be people laughing. I think there's going to be a lot of hugs. Autoworkers are a pretty affectionate bunch," she said, holding back tears.

Keetch is part of a group, called Green Jobs Oshawa, that is advocating for the provincial and federal governments to acquire the complex and turn it into a publicly-owned electric vehicle operation. 

Unionized GM employees protested the plant's closure, but the auto manufacturer maintains the changes implemented during a global restructuring are necessary for its future sustainability. (CBC)

With files from CBC News

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