Many auto workers looking to leave increasingly uncertain sector once and for all

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - After 30 years of working in the manufacturing and auto parts industries, John Knelsen has seen the situation go from bad to worse.
Now that Knelsen has been laid off for a sixth time due to plant closures and slowdowns, the 48-year-old just feels lost.
"What they're telling me is I have to go out and find where there are jobs, but where do I begin?" he said from his home in St. Catharines, Ont.
"I've worked in a plant since 1978. I don't know any different."
The auto sector, once an attractive industry with good pay and steady work, has been plunged into uncertainty, taking a particularly hard battering this year with plant closures by the dozens and job losses by the thousands.
It has workers looking ahead to an even more uncertain future in which they can no longer rely on the automotive industry for jobs.
Many laid off factory workers, who have endured plant closures one too many times, say they are giving up on the sector all together and are flocking to skills training centres and colleges.
Scotiabank auto industry analyst Carlos Gomes estimates the Canadian auto sector lost about 13,000 jobs in 2008. He predicts the industry will shed approximately 15,000 more jobs in the new year.
2009 certainly won't get off to a roaring start.
Chrysler is closing all 30 of its North American manufacturing plants for four weeks because of slumping sales; Ford (NYSE:F) will shut 10 North American assembly plants for an extra week in January, and General Motors (NYSE:GM) will temporarily close 20 factories - many for the entire month of January.
Knelsen says he's considering going back to school and leaving the stressful manufacturing environment once and for all.
"Every day you come in there's always a rumour that you're going to be out of work tomorrow," he said.
"First thing you do, you walk into the plant, you look on the board to see if there's a layoff notice there."
Terry Mullin, 35, also knows what it's like to live with uncertainty.
He spent late 2007 and the first half of 2008 on layoff from automotive interior maker Lear Corp. Every two weeks he would get a notice extending the layoff. Mullin was called back to work in June, then got a notice he would be laid off again - on Dec. 23.
"It's pretty tough," he said from his home in Oshawa, Ont. "I knew it would be coming one day, the way everything was going, but I didn't think it would be at Christmas again. Two years in a row."
The family's struggles are compounded by the fact that Mullin's wife, Tara Hathaway-Mullin, 30, was also recently laid off by Lear.
They are in the middle of renovations and if they sold their house they likely wouldn't recoup the cost. They still have a mortgage and are raising two children. The couple doesn't have benefit coverage, and two-year-old Alyssa has been getting ear infections and having seizures.
Still, the family is trying to stay positive. Mullin is taking upgrade courses so he can go back to school, and Hathaway-Mullin is studying web development at Durham College.
"I love my college and I love what I'm doing, but I've gone through the skills development and I guess financially we can't afford for me to be there," Hathaway-Mullin said.
"On the other side, we can't afford for me not to be there."
Hathaway-Mullin went back to school when she couldn't find another job. She sent out resume after resume, even for jobs she was overqualified for, but says she was told she was paid too much in her previous job at Lear.
"I think that's going to be the problem for a lot of people," she said.
"They made too much money and now employers think that they're not going to be reliable and they're not going to want to stick it out."
When major automakers like Chrysler and General Motors are in trouble, people far beyond the walls of the plants sit up and take notice. Many communities in Ontario are highly dependent on the auto industry: Oshawa, Windsor and St. Catharines to name just a few.
Oshawa Mayor John Gray said the city is continuing to make and garner investments, but it is still very closely tied to General Motors.
"Bar none, General Motors and the feeder industries pay far more property tax (than other sectors) and of course that's a real threat to us," he said. "If we see plant closures you see a much diminished revenue for the city, then that spreads pain to everyone."
The General Motors truck assembly plant is slated for closure in 2009 and Oshawa is already feeling the effects, Gray said. Charities are hurting because of a drop in donations from GM employees, who are very generous benefactors, and one local takeout restaurant popular with GM employees has seen average nightly revenue drop from $600 to $60, Gray said.

Organizations: Durham College, General Motors, Lear Corp. North American NYSE Scotiabank Ford

Geographic location: TORONTO, Oshawa, Ontario Windsor

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Recent comments

  • Keith Hecht
    December 19, 2013 - 03:00

    Good info about auto transport.

  • Keith Hecht
    December 07, 2013 - 03:01

    Good info about auto transport.