Last truck rolls off NUMMI assembly line

March 26, 2010 7:06:37 PM PDT
Early Friday morning, a red Tacoma pickup truck reached the end of the assembly line at the mammoth NUMMI plant in Fremont. It was the last truck to be produced there, and for assembly line workers, the final chapter in their auto-making careers.

Tears flowed, and then it was time for them to leave the plant. Their shift had started at 6:30 a.m., but they were out the door between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m.

"I got 18 years. This is our family. Everybody here is our family," said Watson. "I got two kids to take care of. It's tough."

A short time later, some of NUMMI's newly laid-off truck line workers gathered around two tables at Fremont's Country Way restaurant to say their good-byes. Altogether, they had logged 121 hours at the factory. They were planning a day-long wake, hopping from one bar or restaurant to another. They are also planning to play soccer and have a picnic Saturday in Livermore. They have also set up a Facebook page to keep in touch.

"Some people are crying. Some people are holding it in. Some others yell for happiness, but deep inside, we're not happy," said 13-year worker Jose Barajas. "Reality is just hitting right now that we're not going see each other on Monday no more."

Few could mask the emotions filling their hearts and minds.

"I had tears in my eyes when I was walking out," said 17-year employee Art Barraza. "I'm not going to tell you no. I was [crying]."

A non-union supervisor even joined the group to show he cared about these long-time workers.

"I'm here just to let them know that I appreciate them," said NUMMI group leader Chris Magdaleno. "I'm actually from the Valley, and so I decided to get up early and drive out here just so I could be with these guys for one last time."

Such is the camaraderie forged after so many years working together. As one ex-NUMMI employee put it, "We spent more time with these guys than we did with our wives." However, that era is over.

Their future is uncertain, given the state of the economy. More than 1,700 have signed up already for assistance from the NUMMI Re-Employment Center, which is providing skills assessment, counseling and vocational training to the 4,700 union workers. A DVD will be distributed to all laid-off workers, spelling out what services will be available to them.

"Their new job is looking for work full-time," said Craig Palmquist with the NUMMI Re-Employment Center. "What we're saying is come down here and get registered in for the services. Start the process. It takes time."

So what happens to that last truck produced Friday? NUMMI says it will be sold to a customer.in Fremont.


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