I was very nervous up until the point it was time to leave, and then all the anxiety and the fear just went away. My wife and I sat down and took a look at all our finances, figuring out what we could do and couldn't do. We looked at our monthly bills, and how much we would save if we went to the most basic plans for phone and cable. Normally we might have gone on a family ski trip, but not this year. We don't go out to restaurants, and aren't using our credit cards any more. Most of all, we stopped going to Wal-Mart, because every time you go in there you walk out with at least $100 worth of stuff.
The good news is that in previous years, we'd bought investment property, a fiveplex in Ottawa. We decided to sell that, and made about $130,000. My wife also went from part-time to full-time work, so really we're only short $1,000 to $2,000 a month compared to where we were. At our current burn rate, we're good for at least another year. Because we paid off all our debts, we're better off financially than we were before.
My days are actually pretty full. At first I was like, "What do I do now?" Then I put together a strategy to find work again, making calls, scanning Internet postings, researching hiring managers. I've gotten some nibbles, but employers seem to be looking for very particular skill sets, because there are so many talented applicants to choose from.
We have two kids, a boy and a girl, and they're aware of what's going on. They've been really good about it, and haven't bugged us to buy things. This all happened right before Christmas, so we had to scale back their Christmas lists to one gift that they each really wanted. My wife and I didn't get anything.
WHERE HE IS NOW Frustrated by what he saw as inefficiencies in existing Internet job-searching tools, Kevin decided to build his own Web program for those seeking employment. The result was so successful that it found jobs for both Kevin and his wife.
JOHN MACDONALD, 29,GM assembly-line worker, Oshawa, Ontario I'd been working at GM for 12 years, and started on the midnight shift in 2004, assembling Chevy Impalas. I started out hanging doors and then moved to installing windshields. The speed at which we move is pretty impressive: We're building 500 cars a shift, so the total time I had to install all the glass was about a minute and 12 seconds. If you fall behind, a light goes on over your head and a supervisor comes over to ask what's going on. You become pretty much like a machine.
I'd been laid off once before, for the first half of 2008, when there was a big dip in car sales. I came back to work in June, but I was well aware of where this was all heading. I had been taking a course in economics, and everyone was saying it was only going to get worse. The big fallout happened by mid-December, when my supervisor on the shop floor pulled us all over in a big group, and told us our shift was no longer going to be working come the new year. There were about 700 of us. Then they started building fewer cars on the other shifts, which affected about 400 more.
My last day of work was Dec. 23. Since then, I've been keeping busy, taking online courses, staying involved with the union. I've applied at a few different places, and have been looking to get into clerical work, to be in an office somewhere. I haven't heard back from anyone yet.
I haven't applied at any other automakers, because there basically aren't any manufacturing jobs left. Every car company is feeling this, not just the Big Three, but Honda and Toyota as well. I got a small bit of money from GM to tide me over through this transition period, and have 14 weeks of unemployment insurance left. After that I have no savings, and my family can't help me out, so I'm definitely looking for work right away.
A lot of my co-workers are extremely concerned about what's next. Most of the people on my shift had gone through layoffs before, at plants in Windsor and St. Catharines. Some of them used to drive in from Niagara Falls every day, just for a job in Oshawa. Now they ask me, "Do you think we're going back?" I have to tell them, "No, not this year."
WHERE HE IS NOW John has nine weeks of employment insurance left, and is still looking for a job. He's hoping to find clerical work in a non-profit organization, but beyond a few interviews, has not had many leads.