Only weeks before Christmas in 2008 I received a registered letter at my home in Windsor. I knew instantly what it was; my number was up. The paper said I was terminated at Ford Motor Company. I called my husband. There were tears. Anyone who experiences a layoff knows the devastating sense of loss.
I’d worked on the assembly line for twelve years, building engines for Mustangs and F150 pickup trucks. I liked the “cold tests” best; we’d hook diagnostic software up to the finished engine to ensure it complied with all safety standards. It paid $37 an hour, with benefits and pension. It was a very good living.
My life plan was the assembly line. If you lived in southwestern Ontario 20 years ago and were lucky enough to land a job with one of the Big Three automakers, you knew that was a job for life. It meant stability and family and a comfortable retirement. My father worked at Ford for thirty years. My brother worked there till he was laid off, in 2008. My husband still works there.
The 2008 recession was awful. Our union agreed to reopen the contract and make sacrifices to keep as many workers on the line as possible. There were 6,700 employees at Ford Canada when I started twenty years ago; today there are 1,500. We estimate another 10,000 spinoff jobs with suppliers and contractors also vanished. Literally thousands of people got their own letter and were plunged into crisis.
Marriages ended; homes were lost; families moved away. People lost everything. Unemployment passed 10 percent, and Windsor to this day has not yet recovered. There was little reason to stay in Essex County if you lost your job, since there were so few jobs to be found.
There is a certain mythology that layoffs put lives in focus and motivate people to re-examine their priorities. We’ve all heard it: “Could be the best thing that ever happened to you.” It’s not. You lose friends and co-workers, and your future is forever altered.
I moved on with my life and was elected to Parliament, but still wouldn’t say that letter from Ford was the best thing that ever happened to me. It happened to everybody in my hometown, and it’s happening to thousands of Canadians in workplaces all across the country. Unemployment brings fear and uncertainty. It can forever disrupt homes and families.
I hope Canadians show compassion and reach out to those who experience a layoff. Know this is an indelible moment in their lives. I wouldn’t wish that letter on anybody.
(Editor’s note: the author is former New Democrat MP for Essex, Ont.)