Laid off GM workers face vastly different futures

A sign is seen outside of General Motors Detroit- Hamtramck assembly plant on January 27, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. - General Motors said on January 27, 2020 one of its US manufacturing plant set for closure will instead shift to producing new electric trucks and SUVs. The US auto giant announced a massive restructuring in 2018 that would have slashed 15 percent of its workforce to save $6 billion, a move criticized by President Donald Trump as "nasty" because it would have required shuttering several manufacturing facilities in North America. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

The closure of General Motors in Oshawa last year came after a slow decline, leaving roughly 3,000 people out of work.

In an already tight job market, many people have struggled to find new jobs, including Ethan Hughes, a former GM assembler and owner of his own flooring company.

Hughes, 19, began working at GM after struggling to keep his flooring business going in winter months. He found himself on the factory floor of General Motors for the first time just a few months prior to the announcement it was shutting down.

“It was a very, very interesting workplace, probably the most interesting I’ve ever been in,” he explained.

Hughes said some employees were angry with him at the time because he was receiving the same pay for his work as people who had worked there for a long time.

“I had all these old timers and high seniority folk coming up to me all p—ed off because I’m working their job,” he said.

Hughes felt there were not enough managers as the factory wound down.

He said he couldn’t complain because he was paid well. However, he recalled the constant shouting and protests on the floor about pay and some employees not feeling they were being accommodated for things such as taking time off to go to a job interview.

For someone older, however, this shutdown was not as dramatic.

Ron Leroux, a veteran GM employee of General Motors of 31 years, said the closure had less impact on his lifestyle as a now retired and only occasional part-time employee.

Leroux, who was also an assembler for the company, started when he was just 16, lying about his age to get a full-time job. He recalled the hard and long hours he worked extra to make even better money.

He recalled the ‘rave’ shift, which involved working a double 12-hour shift back-to-back – resulting in a 24-hour workday.

Leroux said the name came from a group of friends who did these shifts to either have extra days off or good overtime pay.

He described the day shift when it was louder and faster like a rave and the night shift, which felt like the morning after partying too much.

Leroux didn’t feel the shutdown affected him as much because he had already received his pension 13 years earlier after his retirement.

He said he has a lot of concern for the younger generation.

“No, it didn’t affect me at all, my pension was the same, not much good for other people though,” he said.

Hughes intends to get back to flooring as soon as the jobs come in, planning to work his hardest to move with the season to keep work coming.

Leroux plans, however, to work part-time wherever he can pick up work to pass the time.