OSHAWA — You will have to forgive Bill Corrigan for not heading over to Gate 4 of the General Motors plant to mark the final shift and last truck off the famous assembly line.
“It’s just too emotional,” the 62-year-old retired autoworker said Wednesday.
“I would end up in tears.”
The plant, after all, was his work home for 35 years.
“It was my father, John Robert Corrigan’s, place of work for 37 years.”
Needless to say, there are some memories.
“My dad moved to Oshawa from Nova Scotia to work at General Motors and he raised his family here,” said Corrigan. “
I worked there at the same time as him and I raised my six kids in Oshawa.”
They will not be following in their dad and granddad’s footsteps.
“I could see years ago it was going to go this way,” said Bill.
“I knew this plant wasn’t likely going to be here forever.”
They had been building cars, vans and trucks in Oshawa for a century.
“The thing we have always been most proud of is the quality,” said Bill.
“We built the best trucks in the world. I know. I have a GMC Sierra and love it. I helped build it myself. I wasn’t going to buy one that was made at a plant in Mexico.”
So good, he still can’t believe General Motors decided to move on from Oshawa.
“I have to say, as a worker, the company paid us very well and treated us very well,” said Bill.
“But when it comes to this decision the way I see it, it’s corporate greed. This shouldn’t be happening. Sam McLaughlin would be rolling in his grave.”
He even worked with Oshawa’s original car builder’s grandson Paul inside the plant.
“He was a good guy too. I don’t think the McLaughlins should have never let the Americans get their fingers in the pie. They made billions of dollars here and now they want to make even more in Mexico. It doesn’t feel right to me.”
Oshawa, he said, will never be the same.
“This last truck off the line is not going to be as catastrophic to the city with 2,600 full-time workers losing their jobs as it would be if it was 24,000 as it was when I started,” said Bill.
“But there will be an effect. Where are all of those truck drivers going to drop off their parts now? Who around here is going to take them?”
That said, GM Canada Director of Communications Jennifer Wright said that 1,300 of the workers affected are being financially-helped into retirement, 300 workers will continue at a new parts operation that is being built, and the company is assisting the others with finding other skilled employment.
Wright, herself, had raw emotions about the day — she’s worked at GM for 22 years and “started working on the line as well.”
The only thing making this last day bearable is how professional people have been about it.
GM has gone out of its way to wind this down the right way, Unifor’s leadership has been dealing with its members on compassionate grounds because they understand the personal impact, and the workers been highly focused on making sure these final products are held to the same high standards Oshawa has delivered for a century.
It was a nice touch that the very last truck was raffled off to one of the workers who built it — with all proceeds going to charity.
David W. Paterson, vice president of corporate affairs, said that raffle has so far raised over $110,000 for Durham Children’s Aid.
Even though “the new parts operation and test track start-up early next year” will also expand to create even more jobs, he acknowledges “it’s a sad week to be sure.”
A proud week as well.
“I am proud to have worked there,” said Corrigan.
But don’t ask him to see off the final shift.
“It just can’t do it,” he said.
“I won’t be able to keep my composure.”