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Former Chrysler worker finds new home on GM assembly line

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 1, 2012 - After two years of employment struggles, former Chrysler worker Chris Paplanus, 54, says he is blessed to be back on an assembly line -- building vans at the General Motors plant in Wentzville.

"I consider myself blessed, and I'm appreciative and lucky. Whatever chance I have to pay it forward, I will,'' said Paplanus, who was featured in a two-part series by the St. Louis Beacon in August.

Paplanus worked at Chrysler's Fenton plant for 26 years and was one of more than 3,000 St. Louis area autoworkers who lost their jobs in cutbacks that started in 2008 and ended with the facility being shuttered in July 2009. He credits his brother -- a longtime GM employee -- for the referral that resulted in his hiring in October. Paplanus said he is an entry-level worker and makes about $15 an hour -- less than the $28 he earned at Chrysler but more than the $9 an hour he was paid at a temporary factory job.

Paplanus notes that while the nation's unemployment rate decreased to 8.6 percent in November, he considers himself fortunate to have landed at GM when so many Americans are still unemployed or working temporary jobs. He knows former Chrysler colleagues who are hoping to be hired by GM when a $380 million expansion is completed and the Wentzille plant begins producing Chevrolet Colorado trucks in 2013.

Paplanus said he likes his job at GM -- where fellow employees have nicknamed him "Chrysler" -- because he enjoys being busy and he is familiar with the work.

"It feels like home,'' he said.

Paplanus thinks the U.S. economy is showing improvement, but he believes that jobs lost during the recession by middle-class Americans are coming back very slowly. Paplanus, who held a series of temporary jobs during his unemployment, advises people to keep moving and to stay involved, although he acknowledges that it can be tough to do.

"The more you do the more you get done,'' he said. "It is rare that jobs come looking for you."

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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