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Uncertainty awaits Tenneco worker as plant set to close

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Lori Carder got a job at Tenneco when she was 24 and recently out of school.

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She studied early childhood education but daycare jobs were scarce in 1998. She had two small children to support, so she got work at the auto parts-maker through a temp agency.

“It was kind of exciting, seeing how everything flowed through the process to make the products and it was very interesting. And the people were extremely helpful. They wanted to make sure that you succeeded.”

Now she’s 45 and is looking for work again. So is her 55-year-old husband, Brad, whom she met at Tenneco.

The 45-year-old plant will discontinue operations about May 1.

By Friday, about 140 employees will be left at the plant, company spokesman Mike Alzamora said in an interview this week from his home office near Chicago.

The plant had nearly 500 employees when Tenneco Inc. announced on Oct. 26, 2018 it would close. Plant manager Jeff Kain said it was an overcapacity issue, not his award-winning staff’s fault. Four ride-control parts plants were being reduced to two.

When the nearly 300,000 square-foot plant ceases production, a crew of 30 will remain to close it up and some equipment will be moved to other plants by June 30. The property’s future will be considered over the next few weeks, Alzamora said.

Tenneco paycheques, which employees considered good money for Owen Sound, enabled the Carders to send their kids to hockey, dance and summer camp and do things other people took for granted, Carder said.

She started at $14 an hour and three months later she was earning $16. Some 20 years later, if there were new hires they’d still start at $14 to $15 per hour, she said.

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Tenneco, formerly known as Monroe, a well known automotive shock absorber brand, also gave summer jobs to four of the Carders’ five children, which helped pay for their post-secondary education.

“It’s always been family-oriented,” she said, adding it’s cliché to say it but her co-workers are like family. They knew who was expecting their first baby. If someone lost a spouse or had a family member in the hospital, they helped pay their bills.

“The people on the floor would definitely band together to support each other.”

Her kids are in their 20s and are supporting themselves now. But Carder is too young to retire and so is her husband, who is worried someone might not want to hire a 55-year-old, she said.

The majority left in the plant are around his age, with about 30 years at the plant, she said.

The world has changed dramatically with COVID-19 too, which has produced government-led mass quarantines and a million Canadian jobless in March. Stock markets have sunk, leaving people in the plant to second-guess retirement plans, Carder said.

The plant has continued operations under a provincial emergency order essential business exemption.

As her last day of work approaches, it’s a very emotional time, with financial uncertainty and the understanding that soon she won’t be seeing those she works with. She and her husband worry about where the money will come from.

“It’s hard to say if the jobs that were there two months ago are still going to be there two months from now. So it’s a little unsettling not having somewhere to go right away or not really knowing what’s in store for the future until this pandemic passes.”

She said the mood in the plant, in addition to COVID-19 concerns, is of sadness and resignation.

“There doesn’t seem to be any anger, like when they first announced the closure. It’s more what are we going to do? What’s going to be available? Are we qualified to do that?” she said.

“Some of them are just ready to say goodbye and get ready for that next step. And then there’s the people with indecision. The ones that were going to retire, they’re just not sure if they can.”

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