Planned Closings Stun GM Employees
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Twenty minutes before yesterday's announcement that General Motors Corp. would cut 30,000 jobs and shut down all or part of 12 facilities, Chris "Tiny" Sherwood heard that his beloved Lansing, Mich., plant would be among those closed.
The news had a particular sting for Sherwood. Lansing Metal Center is among the plants he represents as president of United Auto Workers Local 652. It is also the same plant where he started his career in 1967.
Today, there are 1,000 UAW workers who make metal bumpers and other parts at the plant, just as Sherwood did decades ago.
"It's kind of a used term, but they're calling it 'shock and awe,' " Sherwood said of his members who were being informed of the potential closing during their shifts. "I don't know what [GM's] thinking was. We're one of the best, most efficient press plants in the country. We won many J.D. Power awards. It don't make sense."
GM and the UAW expect many of the cuts will come through attrition and early retirement programs.
The company cannot permanently close plants without union approval, but the UAW is powerless to halt layoffs. In yesterday's announcement, chief executive G. Richard Wagoner Jr. said the plants will "cease operations," leaving open the possibility for restarting plants, said the UAW. The union said yesterday's layoffs and closings will be the subject of its 2007 contract talks with GM.
GM is flailing thanks in part to increased competition from foreign carmakers, most of whose employees are not unionized and whose labor costs are much lower. Among the sites scheduled to be shuttered are two of GM's most notable plants -- one made famous by Michael Moore's documentary "Roger & Me," about the downfall of blue-collar Flint, Mich., and a Spring Hill, Tenn., line that produces the Saturn Ion, a vehicle designed to compete with foreign automakers. Vehicles slated for production cutback include sport-utility vehicles, minivans and Chevrolet staples Impala and Monte Carlo.
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Vice President Richard Shoemaker said in a joint statement that the announcement is "extremely disappointing, unfair and unfortunate."
UAW officials said they would fight to enforce its "job-security program" and other negotiated worker protections.
Workers affected by plant closings can receive pay from what the UAW and GM call a job bank. The bank was designed years ago to support laid-off workers while they retrained or looked for a job at another plant. Now, that pay is more like a generous severance package, according to Clark University industrial relations professor Gary N. Chaison.
GM generally is required to make openings at its other plants available to laid-off union workers by seniority first. Early retirements suggested by GM are subject to negotiation by the union.
"The whole idea behind it was to make it difficult for GM to cut jobs. The UAW has really been at the forefront for developing techniques or programs for income security," Chaison said.