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In pictures: Eight months after Caterpillar shutdown, London picks up the pieces

Caterpillar Inc. closed its 62-year-old Electro-Motive Diesel locomotive plant in London, Ont. in February, putting about 700 people out of work, including 485 unionized members. The heavy-equipment maker cited a need to stay competitive as the reason, and had asked its London workers to take pay cuts of up to 50 per cent. It is now beefing up operations in lower-cost centres in Muncie, Ind. and Sete Lagoas, Brazil. Half a year later in Canada, the headlines have faded, the story largely forgotten. But for many of the former workers at EMD, the grind only started with the job loss. As the severance runs out and bills pile up in a still-soft jobs market, the financial and emotional strain is showing.

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Caterpillar Inc. closed its 62-year-old Electro-Motive Diesel locomotive plant in London, Ont. in February, putting about 700 people out of work, including 485 unionized members. The heavy-equipment maker cited a need to stay competitive as the reason, and had asked its London workers to take pay cuts of up to 50 per cent. It is now beefing up operations in lower-cost centres in Muncie, Indiana and Sete Lagoas, Brazil.
The plant is now up for sale.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

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Just one in four of the factory’s 485 unionized workers have found work since the plant shut its doors, according to the job action centre, whose staff phones them monthly to track their progress.
Pictured: Bob Scott, former Electro-Motive Diesel employee and director of the EMD Job Action Centre at the Canadian Auto Workers Union building in London, talks with former employee and peer counsellor Wade Purdy.

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Former EMD employee Garnet Cooke (orange shirt) talks with peer counsellor Dave Clark while looking over the job boards at the EMD Job Action Centre in London.
For London, there are about 20 postings pinned to the wall. Most are minimum wage, shift work or temporary.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

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Former EMD employee Kelly Gordon works as a peer counsellor at the centre.
Of the former EMD employees who are working, 68 have full-time jobs, with the rest in part-time and contract positions or self-employment.
Severance has run out for all but 180 people, so the majority of people have been on jobless benefits since June.

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Ms. Gordon is now on employment insurance and continues to look for work.

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Glen Pearson, co-director of the London Food Bank, has spoken with many families affected by the plant shutdown.
“Families are breaking up, or being separated as the father or mother go out to look for work in other parts of the country,” he says. “There is this feeling that their own particular lifestyle is falling apart – they can’t join the ball team this year, or play hockey, or go on the school trip to Ottawa.”

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Normally, January is the busiest time for the local food bank, when budgets are strained. Not this year. London’s food bank recorded its busiest August on record last month, serving 3,840 families.

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Of those, at least 15 were families with former Electro-Motive employees, all of whom have children.

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“The Caterpillar situation is still the defining moment for us, eight months later,” says co-director Mr. Pearson at the food bank.
“There’s still this feeling in the community that if Caterpillar treats us like that, others will too...the worry is there is a race to the bottom. ”

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Some are now single mothers, visiting because their husbands have moved out to Saskatchewan or Alberta for work. Others starting coming even before the plant’s close as a month-long lockout put a stress on household finances.

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A volunteer unloads bags and packs food boxes at the London Food Bank on Sept. 24, 2012.

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