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Laid-off Canadian autoworker struggles for future
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2009-03-30 12:56
Some of the 1,200 workers from the Chrysler Brampton plant who have been laid off this month broke down in tears, trembling to think of the future.

That was not what Antonio Rossi did when he was laid off from the same plant exactly a year ago. The 31-year-old native of Brampton, a small town 40 km northwest of Toronto, has kept struggling to look for what he calls a career.

Laid off in March 2008, the father of a two-year old daughter enrolled in Liaison College learning cooking with the help from Ontario government's Second Career funding. He will graduate in October this year.

Under the influence of his teacher wife, Rossi finds fun both in cooking and teaching kids how to cook. "If you're not having fun, you're wasting time," he said.

Having worked at the Chrysler Brampton plant for three years as an assembly line worker, Rossi's highest pay rate was almost 36 Canadian dollars (29 U.S. dollars) an hour. Yet as a chef, he will not be making anywhere near that.

"I'm actually looking more into a wide couple of years of being myself in high school teaching kids cooking," he noted.

Upon the completion of 9,000 hours of practice in kitchen, Rossi is able to go to the Ontario College of Teachers to apply for a teaching license, and then find a teaching position at a high school for probably 15 Canadian dollars an hour.

Rossi said the family has cut down spending "a little bit, but not substantially" since his layoff, because he saved as much as he could when he was with Chrysler.

"Don't give up. Don't stop. Don't sit on your couch and look at the TV and say 'I can't do anything.'" Rossi told his fellow workers. "You can keep going but don't look for the next job that is going to pay you 35 (Canadian) dollars an hour."

Not all laid off auto workers adapt to new realities so positively as Rossi did.

Earlier this month, a group of disgruntled auto workers in Windsor, about 370 km south of Toronto, seized a closed parts plant that once supplied Chrysler for one day to demand better severance packages.

And many more auto workers are pinning their hopes on the ongoing talks between the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) and Chrysler Canada to keep their jobs.

CAW and Chrysler have until March 31 to reach a deal on labor costs as a prerequisite to the ailing automaker receiving about 2 billion Canadian dollars in public bailout cash.

Chrysler threatens to pull production from Canada if the CAW dose not agree to cut union workers' compensation by as much as 25percent.

However, the talks bogged down on Friday as Chrysler declined to accept a deal similar to the one CAW reached with General Motors Corp. that would cut labor costs by approximately 7 Canadian dollars an hour.

Chrysler Canada estimates its hourly labor costs, which include wages, benefits and legacy costs such as pensions, are approximately 76 Canadian dollars. To be competitive with Toyota plants operating in Canada, the company says it needs to reduce those costs to 57 Canadian dollars an hour.

Rossi, however, disagreed with the simple mathematics. He thinks the public has been literally mistaken.

"I took home around 1,100 (Canadian) dollars a week for five eight-hour shift. For doing 40 hours a week, that's not 70 (Canadian) dollars an hour," he said.

"There are people doing 12 hours a day. Yes, they are bringing home 1,700 (Canadian) dollar cheque a week ... they didn't have a life. If you look at people like that, (the public) may think that they make almost 70 (Canadian) dollars an hour by working 40 hours a week. This is mistaken," he further explained.

Eric Sifuentes, editor-in-chief of Opinion Magazine and a political analyst, said that the manufacturing industry is dying in Canada.

"The automobile sector is the brass of that industry. It's unfortunate to see hundreds of working Canadians lose their jobs and face economic hardship, but this is a reality of market corrections," he said.

"Automakers have continued to fall behind competitors in product quality and not effectively producing vehicles that meet the changing environmental demands," he added.

Being an hourly auto worker, Rossi's income was not as steady as the general public thinks.

"If a line went down, like a chain breaks, and it takes four to five hours to be fixed. They sent us home so they don't have to pay us for the lunch," he said. 

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