Chrysler Worker Weighs Uncertain Future

Automaker Chrysler has announced it will shut all its plants for a month starting Friday. Brian Peshek, a die-maker at a Chrysler plant in Twinsburg, Ohio, talks about the plant's closure and his worries for the future.

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Tomorrow will be the last day of work for at least a month at 30 Chrysler plants around the country. The company says it could run out of cash in weeks. At the Chrysler stamping plant in Twinsburg, Ohio, the company usually shuts down for 10 days over the holidays. This year, the furlough will be three times that long. Brian Peshek has worked as a die-maker at the plant for 11 years. His salary supports his wife and three children. He's thinking about life after Chrysler. He told me he's studying Chinese philosophy and working on a master's thesis.

Mr. BRIAN PESHEK (Die-Maker, Chrysler): I think I might be the only die-maker in America with a master's in Chinese philosophy.

BLOCK: Could be. Brian Peshek says he and his Chrysler co-workers have sadly gotten used to uncertainty.

Mr. PESHEK: The plant was built in the '50s, and legend has it that the day it was opened, it was rumored to be closing. And it's been that way ever since I've been there. But times now are looking more and more like that could be a reality. When I first started bringing those sorts of rumors home, my wife told me that her father was getting laid off from his job every day for 30 years.

BLOCK: Did he work at Chrysler?

Mr. PESHEK: He worked for Ohio Bell. And he never did get - lose his job. For me, life is too short to really worry about and speculate too hard. I'm taking measures to prepare myself for that. Like I tell people, when the check comes on Friday, I cash it. And when it doesn't come anymore, then I'm going to go do something else.

BLOCK: How old are your children?

Mr. PESHEK: My children are 11, six and three quarters, and three.

BLOCK: Aha, and what do you tell them about what's going on at work?

Mr. PESHEK: I tell them that things are uncertain. I tell them that I may have to get a new job, that I'm going to try to make it so we don't have to move and be uprooted from our community in which we're deeply rooted, that we may have to make some sacrifices. For example, my girls want to take gymnastics, and I don't see that we can really take that risk right now, committing to that payment. It's hard to keep them realistic while preserving their innocence.

BLOCK: Yeah.

Mr. PESHEK: And insulating them from anxiety. As a father, I'm obligated to say that everything is going to work out because I do believe everything will work out in one way or another. Of course, it's not always how we want it to.

BLOCK: That's got to be a really tricky balance.

Mr. PESHEK: Yes, it is.

BLOCK: When you listen to the discussion in Washington about the automakers and the bailout and should the car companies be given these emergency loans, how does that register with you there in Ohio?

Mr. PESHEK: Those senators are taking care of their own, and I guess that's what they're paid to do. And they have their ideological biases, and they've bought into a lot of myths about autoworkers. I guess that's the nature of politics in America and perhaps everywhere is that it's about people getting what they need for themselves.

BLOCK: And what would you want them to know?

Mr. PESHEK: I would want them to know that in spite of everything they hear, in spite of all the horror stories about what goes on in these plants, that for every horror story, there's hundreds of people who show up every day who are really, really decent people. And they have really wonderful families. And these people show up and do their jobs intelligently and with integrity and go home. And that doesn't make for good storytelling at a cocktail party, and it doesn't make the papers, but there's a lot of decent folks whose lives are going to be affected by this.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Peshek, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. PESHEK: I'm truly honored.

BLOCK: Brian Peshek is a die-maker at Chrysler's stamping plant in Twinsburg, Ohio.

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