Generations of GM Workers Reach End of Line

moraine

From blow torches to robots, the generations of GM employees who stood on the assembly line for 10 or more hours a day, sacrificing time with family -- and sometimes even physical health -- were the embodiment of the American blue collar worker.

UAW Worker Sings: This Job is History
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Striving for the middle class American dream, their hard work, commitment and sacrifice makes one thing clear: the downfall of General Motors is felt deepest in its heart.

"It was one of the biggest companies in the world, what better place could you work?" said Larry Cox, who worked at GM's truck and SUV plant in Moraine, Ohio, for 31 years before retiring in 1999.

Watch "20/20" FRIDAY at 10 p.m. ET for the full story.

For Cox and the thousands of other workers stationed at GM plants across the country, working for the automaker was a ticket to a comfortable middle class life, in areas sometimes lacking for other opportunities.

"You could graduate high school and go work at GM and have a great life, and a great income for your family, a very stable career," said David Hicks, a lifetime area resident and current Moraine city manager.

It was also as a family tradition. "You know, a lot of family worked there. My dad worked at the same plant at the time and when I got in the work force and I knew I didn't have the opportunity to go to college, so I decided to go to GM. I was extremely proud to work for GM," said Cox.

In 1951, the Moraine plant began operating, building Frigidaire appliances in its early days, before the massive 4.4 million-square-foot complex was converted to build GM trucks and SUVs. During its heyday the plant employed more than 4,000 workers.

Despite hitting the 6 million vehicle mark in production in 2007, the Moraine plant along with 13 others was shut down two days before Christmas 2008.

"There was a lot of crying, I mean, you didn't know if you were going to see the people again, people that you've been with for 12 years," said Jason Lewis, who worked the assembly line in the plant's trim department.

In an interview with ABC News, Lewis, along with his wife, Stevie, and co-workers Chad Lloyd, Mike Malone and Greg Cummins said that family tradition and promise of a nice steady income played a role in bringing them to GM.

"I was hired on March 13th, 1995, and my dad retired from there, grandpa, every male in my family was there from the start of it," said Lloyd.

"My mom worked there for 37 years, so I was kind of raised on GM," said Stevie Lewis. "I was 19 and I bought my house and was like, 'Oh, what other job around here is going to pay my house payment?' I had a nice car at 19, a house, what other 19-year-old has that?"

Repetitiveness of Assembly Line Wears on Workers

Yet, to earn that house and car wasn't a walk in the park, and these workers scoff at the notion that line workers are paid good salaries to do easy work.

"People would say you work at GM, you've got it made. You've got your insurance, your big money, you don't do anything. But they don't understand we're there 10 hours a day, doing the same thing 640 times a night. It wears on you, body, physically, mentally, everything," Cummins said.

"The constant scrapes and bruises and broken bones, being away from our families," Lloyd said. "I've broken every one of my fingers at GM and didn't even go to the doctor for it, just taped it up and went back to work. I mean, I went for eight years without missing one day. And the day that I did miss, my one daughter was born."

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