Tonawanda News

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December 18, 2009

TOWN OF TONAWANDA: GM says goodbye to big block V-8

TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The final General Motors “big block” V-8 engine — one of a series that has been around in one form or another since 1959 — rolled off the line at Tonawanda’s Powertrain plant on Friday.

For Willie Ray, who guided that last engine onto a cart for transport, it was a particularly bittersweet day. Thinking he was on his way to another building and safe from a round of layoffs stemming from the line’s end, Ray came in Friday to find out he was the final person to be sent home at Christmas with no definite return date.

“I’m the cut-off guy,” Ray said, “so that also means I’ll be the first one to be called back.”

Ray has been with GM for 29 years — 15 of them in Tonawanda — and is no stranger to the indefinite hiatus that can come with an auto industry job.

“I was laid off for almost five years before,” he said. “This is a blessing compared to what that was like.”

He’s not alone. Plant Communications Director Nina Price said the plant currently has 162 employees on indefinite volume related layoff. As of Jan. 1 — once the 108 people on the L18 line are filtered onto other lines based on seniority — the facility will have approximately 280 employees in that category. While the plant was able to add back 58 laid off workers in October, the inability of Ray’s 29 years to make the seniority cut this time around illustrates how far the cutbacks are going.

The assembled crowd took the news with a mix of fatalistic grumbling and devil-may-care cheer. A smiley face drawn on the bottom of the engine surrounded by the words, “Have a nice layoff” adequately captured the sentiment

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Plant Manager Steve Finch said the large engine was developed in 1958, around the same time he was born. It was redesigned several times to increase horsepower and improve efficiency, with the L18 going into production in 1999.

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