Hundreds of laid-off Michelin workers in Pictou County are in the process of making potentially life-altering decisions as they decide whether they'll relocate, retire or take a severance package.

Last week, Michelin North America (Canada) Inc. announced it will cut 500 positions over the next 18 months at its Granton tire plant. Michelin said the market for small tires is dropping and it's too expensive to upgrade the 43-year-old plant to make larger tires.

The workers have until the end of the month to decide what to do.

It's a double blow for Amy Fraser and her common-law partner Ryan Thompson, who are both losing their jobs. Fraser said she found out about the cuts on Facebook.

"I immediately started crying, of course. Panic set in. I didn't know if it was some type of rumour going around or what the situation was," said the mother of two.

"I called work and started asking questions and found out that it was true."

Fierce housing market

Fraser said her family is looking at moving to the Annapolis Valley so they can work at Michelin's Waterville plant, where they're both guaranteed positions. She said the real challenge is finding a house they can afford.

"One of them jumped $30,000 in three days. So they know everybody's coming and they know they could probably get more out of their property," Fraser said.

"They're upping the prices, which makes it even harder on us when we get there."

Fraser said the family will likely end up renting, but rent is also higher in the Annapolis Valley compared to Pictou County.

Wade Gammon, who has worked at Michelin for 24 years, said he wanted to take a severance package until he discovered how much he would lose in taxes.

Wade Gammon

Wade Gammon said he doesn't think the government should be able to tax his severance package from Michelin. (CBC)

"I get a little bit of a severance pay and the government wants 50 to 52 per cent of it. In my opinion, you shouldn't be allowed to touch a man's severance package," said the forklift driver.

"That's all you have to start up again and get going with your life."

Another option is to take a continuous severance, which comes in bi-weekly payments at a lower tax rate. For some workers, retirement is an option.

Workers eligible to retire get 78 weeks worth of pay if they work in the small tire area. All other retirees will get 52 weeks worth of pay.

Employees have until the end of this month to decide. The list of workers who will get to stay on for another year has not yet been finalized.

'It took the good out of them'

The first phase of cuts takes effect this June when 200 positions will be cut. Another 300 will be axed in June 2015.

Until then, the affected workers still have to deal with the daily grind of the job. Fraser said her supervisor has been sympathetic, telling them to take breaks when they need to cry or scream.

But Gammon said he believes the bosses at Michelin knew this would happen and that's why they waited so long to tell workers about the cuts.

"I think one of the reasons they didn't want to tell us is because they don't want us to slack off in the production part of it. A lot of people in there now just don't want to. I mean, it took the good out of them. They want us to go in and work until the end of June and that's fine. At least we're going to get a little more work," he said.

"It's hard to concentrate knowing that your life is going to be in a mess after that or it's in a mess right now."

Corrections

  • All other retirees will get 52 weeks worth of pay, not all other workers. An earlier version of this article was incorrect.
    Mar 11, 2014 8:11 PM AT