"We all sort of wanted to do something that was very radical that would test those relationships and also test our ability to be really competitive here," said Mark Reuss, GM's North America president.

Union leaders Sweeney and Dunn accepted the deal in October 2010, figuring it was better to have lower-paying jobs than none at all. They were vilified by some workers.

"People like to complain, but I think deep down inside, they realize what we had to do and why we did it and how everybody's truly benefiting," Dunn said. "It's better than having the doors closed and wondering where your next paycheck is coming from."

After the wage deal, GM started moving equipment into Orion. But there were still no workers to support the restaurants and shops surrounding the plant.

By early 2010, some of the small businesses around Casey's Chicken had started to close. Engineers who had been laid off by nearby parts suppliers came in asking to work for owner Casey Barnard for $8 an hour.

Meanwhile, plant workers were struggling. Unemployment benefits and a subsidy from GM that provided up to 70 percent of their pay began to run out. Some took jobs at other GM plants in Ohio or Missouri, where they bunked with fellow workers in crowded apartments or trailers and commuted home on weekends.

At the UAW hall, meetings had standing-room only crowds of 500 and lasted for hours. Workers stepped up to the microphone asking for help because their homes were being foreclosed and their cars repossessed.

"That was really crushing, going through that time," Dunn said. "These people had been working and making their payments all along on time and then the economy just dropped out on them."

Workers started trickling back to the plant in November 2010. But it wasn't enough for Casey's Chicken. After 14 years, the restaurant closed in the fall of 2011. Barnard is now working at a vacuum store a few doors from his former restaurant.

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