Fa Lim props himself against a railing to relieve pressure on the cane he needs for a back injury for which he no longer has health benefits. His wife, Somalyna Meas, does the talking.
"We have been here since 1995, building a country and building a family. And all we heard from Progressive is, one day they told us not to come in the next day."
Lim, Meas and dozens more of the 2,000 workers idled last week when Progressive Moulded Products Ltd., abruptly shut its 11 auto parts plants in Concord and Rexdale, came to downtown Toronto yesterday to petition federal Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn for remedial severance pay or benefits.
Progressive, hammered by the auto makers' slowdown, won court protection from creditors in late June while telling workers it would "come back stronger," then shut its doors a few days later. Because its workers weren't unionized, the company isn't required by law to give them severance pay.
If they were union members, the workers – many immigrants and some with a decade or two of service at Progressive – would be entitled to severance packages totalling $25 million, said Jerry Dias of Canadian Auto Workers.
Simon Ku, who was told on Canada Day to stay home after 23 years at Progressive, was part of a small delegation that met Blackburn yesterday. The minister was in town for another event.
"He said he would look into it and that it takes a long time to change the law," said Ku, calling this "typical bureaucratic bull----."
Fired workers have been blockading the Progressive plant in Vaughan since July 3, ignoring court orders to stop interfering as the company moves out machinery.
Sochetta Duong's life is tangled up in the auto industry. She worked at Progressive for nine years. Two of her sons work at General Motors, but often only for a shift or two a week, so her paycheque was largely supporting the family of seven after her husband had a stroke.
"A lot of us who work there are women supporting families," she said. "We worked 12 hours a day, 10 hours a day. I'm scared. My English isn't good, I'm old – where can I find a job?"
Shabbar Baig was supporting his wife and parents on the $14 an hour he earned. "At least they could have given us some kind of package."
Last year, in fact, the auto makers kicked in several million dollars to pay severance to the workers after another supplier, Collins & Aikman in Port Hope, closed plants in the area.
While Fa Lim and Somalyna Meas talk about dealing with the mortgage payments on their house in Maple, his work-related injury and the collapse of the hopes they brought from Cambodia, their daughter Richary, almost 7, smiles at the thought of having her mother at home.
"She doesn't understand," said Meas. "And that's good."