Postponed plans, spending reined in, tears on the assembly line and living in the limbo of an uncertain future is the reality that has rushed in to replace the initial shock for workers impacted by FCA Canada’s plans to eliminate the third shift at the Windsor Assembly Plant.
While lots filled with unsold Pacificas represent the material reality, the less visible human cost is just starting to ripple through the community.
“There’s some shock still there,” said 30-year-old Matthew Isherwood, who has two and a half years of seniority on the plant’s production line.
“I knew when (Local 444 president) Dave Cassidy got up at the union meeting that day and was at a loss for words, I thought this isn’t going to be good. He broke down.
“Several people went running from the room. It was a shocking scene.
“With fewer than 500 people below me, I knew I’d be gone too.”
Isherwood is second generation at the plant with his father still there having put in 25 years service.
In many ways, having grown up in the auto industry has helped him understand the ups and downs of the sales-driven business.
“I haven’t heard anyone who’s been angry (at FCA),” Isherwood said. “We understand it’s all about sales in this industry.
“If the Pacifica isn’t selling, all we ask is they give us something else. We’re ready and able to handle it here.”
This is a real stressful time, especially for young families
For generations, landing a job at Windsor Assembly has been a life-changing event for as many reasons as the 6,000 employees at the plant.
The loss of that job will be just as life-changing in a negative way.
“When I was hired at Chrysler, the lady in HR (human resources) told me I’d won the lottery because it was an excellent place to work, with pension, medical benefits and a good living,” said Tyler LaBrecque, who has three and a half years seniority.
“I have some issues with asthma and allergies. For me, the medical benefits are worth their weight in gold.”
The 35-year-old LaBrecque said these two shutdown weeks haven’t provided any respite from work. Life has literally been put on hold.
“There’s been a lot of sleepless nights and missed meals because I haven’t had an appetite,” said LaBrecque, who is hopeful that, with 1,301 people behind him on the seniority list, he’ll can hang on with retirements and buyouts.
“My wife (Susana) and I can’t make any decisions on the next steps in building our life because I don’t know if I’ll have an income.
“It’s not just myself, but for a lot of good people with young families. I don’t know what’s going to become of them.”
Forty-six-year-old Eric Funkenhauser has three and a half years at the plant and is about 100 slots behind LaBrecque on the seniority list.
He wonders what the return to work next week will be like.
“This is a real stressful time, especially for young families,” said Funkenhauser, who lives with his wife and two young daughters in Kingsville.
“We only worked the one day after the announcement before the shutdown, but there were plenty of tears on the line and some anger. It’s very scary for people.”
Funkenhauser has plenty of experience with making radical changes in careers.
He’s a latecomer to the auto industry, having been involved in running the family grocery business (the former Foodland in Kingsville) for 38 years.
“Unfortunately, I understand a sales-dictated industry all too well,” Funkenhauser said. “This is a second chapter for me.
“I liked being able to leave the stress of the job at the plant after checking out.”
However, Funkenhauser’s career as a grocer has also given him a perspective on just how wide-reaching these job cuts will be across Essex County.
“The first day I walked into the plant, I saw so many of my customers who had supported me for years,” Funkenhauser said.
“It made me realize how important this Chrysler plant has been to the community.”
The question now for so many men and women on the bubble is, do you hang onto the golden ticket of working at the FCA plant or jump before being pushed?
“It’ll take a miracle for me to survive,” Isherwood said.
“You stay positive and get yourself back out there — update your résumé and polish your interview skills just in case.”
Isherwood, who is college-educated, is taking online courses already to upgrade his skills, but is planning to let things play out further before making any decisions.
“It’s too good a job to walk away from before you’re sure,” Isherwood said.
“I have confidence in the local. I hope they can pull something off because where are you going to get jobs like these?”
However, all three workers have used the shutdown time to explore other options.
“The union has told us not to freak out,” Funkenhauser said.
“There hasn’t been time for a whole lot of information to come from the company and the union on this process yet.
“Anyone with seniority will tell you in this industry you live with uncertainty. Six months is a long time, so we’ll see what happens.”