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GM plant's closing like death knell in Dayton

  • Story Highlights
  • GM assembly plant closes for good two days before Christmas
  • Moraine, Ohio, plant's closing ripples through its supply chain
  • Many workers worry plant's closure will mean end of town
  • Worker: 'The American dream has backfired on everybody'
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By Jim Kavanagh
CNN
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MORAINE, Ohio (CNN) -- The folks working at Jamestown Industries' Moraine Plant 2 near Dayton, Ohio, have the weary, haunted look of terminally ill patients, only it's their livelihoods that are about to die.

Tony Murphy says the closing of General Motors' Moraine, Ohio, assembly plant will have widespread effects.

Jamestown Moraine warehouses prepare and deliver parts to the General Motors Moraine Assembly truck plant. When the GM plant closes for good on December 23, so will Jamestown Moraine. Sixty-four people will lose their jobs at the supplier, the last of a workforce that once numbered 200.

GM Moraine Assembly once employed about 5,000 people, churning out Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy and even Saab SUVs. About 1,000 will clock out for the last time next month.

Thousands more worked for small suppliers in the Dayton area for whom GM was the only customer.

"I've got the house I've got to pay for. I've got the car payment, I've got clothes and I've got to give the dog a little food -- and you throw in kids? It's bad for everybody," said Tony Murphy, a foreman who operates a forklift at Jamestown Moraine. Video Watch workers talk about losing their jobs next month »

Murphy said he knows the pain goes well beyond his own family and even his own hometown.

"It's going to be a big ripple effect on everyone," he said, "because when they first closed the first two shifts down, it was devastating then, but this, right here, will seal the nail on the coffin.

Jobs lost in Dayton

A look at how GM's woes have cost jobs in the Dayton, Ohio, area:
• GM Moraine Assembly: 5,000 jobs lost
• Supplier Jamestown Moraine: 200 jobs lost
• Supplier Moraine L.O.C., 170 jobs lost
• Supplier Delphi, 3,000 jobs lost
• Supplier CEVA, 170 jobs lost
-- Source: IUE Local 755

"Not only is it going to affect where I work, it's going to affect retail. It's going to affect the mom-and-pop shops. It's even going to affect people all the way up in Michigan because they bring those parts that are sent over there to GM," he said. See the breadth of GM's supply chain »

Leaders of GM, as well as Ford and Chrysler, are lobbying Congress for $25 billion in assistance to stave off bankruptcy. Without federal help, they say, the pain of Moraine could be repeated across the country. iReport.com: Should Congress bail out the Big Three?

But even if Congress acts, Moraine is done two days before Christmas. GM announced its closure -- along with plants in Janesville, Wisconsin; Oshawa, Ontario; and Toluca, Mexico -- in June. See where GM has operations around the country »

Anticipating unemployment, Kevin Howard, Murphy's co-worker, said he's cutting his own hair, skipping dental checkups, brown-bagging leftovers for lunch and wearing $5 T-shirts instead of sturdier work clothes. He said he used to wear a gold earring, but he sold it to raise cash.

Unemployment compensation is about 50 percent less than workers' regular pay, and Howard said COBRA health insurance is beyond his means.

"All it takes is about two weeks falling behind, and I'm in debt. And a month -- I'm really in debt," said Howard, 55, whose children, grandchildren and mother depend on his soon-to-disappear income. "I'm a diabetic. I don't know where I'm going to get my medicine after this."

Moraine is the only GM plant in the United States represented by a union other than the United Auto Workers. Its legacy as a former Frigidaire appliance factory puts its workers, along with its suppliers' workers, in an electrical union, the IUE-CWA.

GM employees received buyouts of as much as $140,000, but suppliers' employees get no compensation when they're cut loose, said Kaine Goodwin, the business manager for IUE Local 755 in Dayton.

"We get no severance pay, and they're not going to bail us out," said Howard, his voice rising and eyes widening. "Somebody should bail us out. We're the ones suffering. ... We don't have a dime. We're gone. Goodbye."

Goodwin sought to discount any suggestions of inter-union rivalry or intrigue.

"It doesn't matter if you're IUE-CWA or not, the economy's going down, jobs are going away, the UAW is losing a lot of jobs as well at this timeframe. So it's bad for all unions as far as jobs in this area right now," he said. Video Watch how union contracts figure into auto industry's dilemma »

"The jobs are going overseas, they're going to India," Goodwin added. "It used to be Mexico we would talk about losing our jobs to, but we're no longer losing them there. We're losing them to India, we're losing them to China, and by the handfuls. They're going out every day, and every time that [production] leaves, that's just less jobs available here."

Howard was more direct in his assessment.

"We want cars built here in America, built by Americans," he declared. Video Watch how auto industry woes felt as far away as Argentina »

Minechelle Washington came to Dayton from GM's hometown Detroit, Michigan, eight years ago to work at the Moraine plant.

"We think crime is bad now? It's going to get worse if there's no jobs here, even for younger people," she said. "I can't even say what the future will be for our kids behind this company and any other company that has closed in the last year, and it's getting awful."

Washington's 27-year-old son was laid off from his job in February and still hasn't found work. Her 22-year-old daughter couldn't afford to stay in college and moved back in with Washington.

Washington's eyes became misty when she mentioned that her 9-year-old daughter's birthday is coming up, and the plant is closing during the holidays.

"The cake they gave the people on second shift said, 'Good Luck and Goodbye,'" she said, shaking her head. "We're losing our jobs two days before Christmas. That's bad."

Murphy compared Dayton to Flint, Michigan, the subject of Michael Moore's scathing 1989 film, "Roger and Me."

"Flint was a thriving town before GM pulled out of there, and when GM pulled out, Flint died. Same thing is going to happen to Dayton," Murphy said. "It makes me feel kind of sad, because as I was growing up, Dayton and the surrounding communities were thriving. ... I've been here 53 years, and I never thought I would see this city completely die like it is now, but it's just about there." Video Watch automakers plead to lawmakers for assistance »

"The American dream has backfired on everybody," Murphy said.

For many, the grief over losing a job is short-lived as they try to search for new jobs. Murphy said the job search is really going to be a struggle.

As of September, the unemployment rate in the Dayton area was 7.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Photo See the final days of GM Dayton supplier »

"It's not going to be easy for anybody. I've put in some applications, but when you've got so many people laid off in Moraine and the city of Dayton [as a whole], there's so many people out there trying to find jobs that it's really going to be hard," Murphy said. "Anybody that's my age or older, anybody that loses their job, especially in this economy right now, should be scared."

Howard is also not optimistic about his job prospects.

"I'll probably end up frying burgers somewhere," he said. "You can't cry about it. You just have to hold your head up until the end."

Mark Smith, Howard's co-worker and Army veteran, said he's applied to work with military contractor KBR in Afghanistan.

"I pray every day that that company will call me and say, 'Come on out of there,'" he said.

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Murphy said he relies on his faith to keep his spirits up.

"You pray. That's what you do," Murphy said. "I do believe in the man upstairs. That's where I get my support, from believing in him. They say through prayer, anything can be done. I believe it."

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