Shock, sadness and hope: FCA employees head back to work under cloud of layoffs

People who work at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Windsor Assembly Plant will head back to work on Monday after reflecting on the announced end of the third shift, which will result in 1,500 people being laid off. 

Unifor Local 444 will meet with FCA next week to find ways to keep people employed

Two autoworkers explain how they are handling the layoff notice from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that will leave 1,500 people unemployed. 2:51

People who work at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Windsor Assembly Plant will head back to work on Monday after reflecting on the announced end of the third shift.

About 1,500 people will be laid off as of Sept. 30. 

Employees have had two weeks to gather themselves while the plant sat idle due to a parts shortage at an external supplier.

Three workers at different points in their career sat with Windsor Morning's Tony Doucette to talk about what the days have been like following the announcement and how they plan to move forward.

If they don't find a workaround of some sort, the third shift at Fiat Chrysler's minivan plant in Windsor will be eliminated in September. That means 1500 people who work there now would be out of a job. Tony speaks with 3 workers, Kathy McKay has been on the job there for 26 years. Mike Kozak was hired 24 years ago. Vanessa Abouhussien has been at the plant for just over a year 12:30

'We're all going to feel this'

Vanessa Abouhussein considers FCA's Windsor Assembly Plant part of the family business.

"A lot of people both on my mother's and father's side have started their careers at Chrysler, retired from Chrysler, still work at Chrysler."

Abouhussein, whose husband also works at the plant, felt lucky to get a job with FCA after leaving her job in the health care industry where she started to feel burnt out. 

"I was expecting some ups and downs but I wasn't expecting them so soon or so serious," she said. 

Vanessa Abouhussien thinks she'll be one of the first layoffs in September because of her low seniority at FCA. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Abouhussein has a little over a year in at the plant and considers herself one of most likely to be part of the 1,500 layoffs. 

"All I really can do is just go to work everyday, build the minivan the best that I can, do my job properly and just keep coming to work until they tell me not to."

The third shift is slated to end just a day before Abouhussein's birthday. 

Unifor expects to meet with FCA sometime next week to discuss the next steps for the plant.

Living in a bubble

Mike Kozak works in a section of the plant where many are new hires, like Abouhussein.

"We're looking down the line and it's like all of these are new people," said Kozak, recalling the day he found out 1,500 of his co-workers will be laid off as of Sept. 30. 

"That was crushing... you think, 'this guy's got a family," he remembers. 

Mike Kozak was hired to work at the Windsor Assembly Plant 24 years ago. (CBC News)

Kozak said the two weeks away from the plant has been one of near silence when it comes to hearing what's next. 

"We've been sort of in a bubble here. We got the bad news and there hasn't been a lot coming out from the company," he said. 

The 24-year plant veteran knows that a slowdown at FCA creates ripple effects across the community, and finds his mind wandering to those outside of the plant. 

"It's not 1,500 people. It goes well beyond that."

If third shift leaves, a return is 'near impossible'

Kathy McKay said the day she was hired to work at the plant 24 years ago was like winning the lottery.

She's seen the ups and downs Abouhussein expected: the launch of the Chrysler Pacifica in 2016 and surviving the bankruptcy in 2009.

"There's no good news on this at all, I'm afraid," said McKay. 

Kathy McKay thinks the loss of the third shift would impact charity organisations across the region. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

McKay thinks the local charities will see the biggest impact, recalling all the youth organizations that fundraise at the gates of the Windsor Assembly Plant during shift changes. 

"There are people at the gates every week collecting for their kids for their sports," she said. Workers have also raised a million dollars for the United Way through pay cheque donations. 

"Every week that we're not in there, those pledges aren't coming off and the money isn't going to the community."

Her big worry is that if the third shift gets cut, "getting it back in would be almost impossible if it goes."

Glimmers of hope

Abouhussein. who expects to compete with thousands of other laid-off auto workers looking for work in October, still has hope that she won't need to hand out resumes. 

"There is still some hope, our union is going to fight to keep our shift or at least keep as many jobs as possible," she said. 

Some newer employees also hope long-time plant workers may accept buyout offers, which will open jobs.

McKay said the key steps moving forward is for the union, government and the company to come together to find a solution.

"We need people like Vanessa to have a future in this community," she said. 


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