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Anger Grips Auto Workers

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But Herron, like many here, pressed the idea that the foreign automakers had been involved in stalling the plan.

"It's in their best interest to see us not succeed," Herron said. "Who were the two biggest critics of the rescue? Senator Shelby from Alabama and Corker -- and both preside over states that have given hundreds of millions to have foreign automakers to open shop here."

Corker's rescue plan required the automakers to lower their wage packages so that they were "competitive" with the foreign plants here. He said in the interview that the wording was intended to give the incoming Obama administration wiggle room to define it.

"Competitive is a subjective word," Corker said.

Of the GM plant here, he said, "I want it to flourish."

This small town was barely a crossroads when the plant first opened here in 1990 to build Saturns. The factory now builds Chevy Traverses. For a while, there were more GM workers than residents.

Spring Hill is home to 25,000 people, and many of them work at the plant or work in one of the affiliated businesses.

"The plant built the city," said Mike Dinwiddie, a city alderman and a Republican. "If it goes away, we will certainly suffer. I like Sen. Corker, but I have to say I am very disappointed."

The other large automaker in Tennessee is Nissan, which has two large plants here with more than 5,300 workers. Neither is unionized. The average worker makes $25 an hour and has "competitive" benefits, according to a company spokesman.

By contrast, the wages of the GM plant are in two tiers -- with far lower rates for new hires. Older workers make about $28 an hour; newer workers make as little as half that.

"Our pay is nothing like what people say it is on the news," said Barbara Walker, who works at the plant, as does her husband. "I think Bob Corker stinks, I really do. I even sent an e-mail to him. He never responded to me at all."

"What Bob Corker is is a union buster, plain and simple," said Brian Kerr, 46, who has worked 28 years for GM. "We set the wage rates for the other plants in the state. Without us, they will be making $10 an hour."

He uttered a vulgarity and said "that's the nicest word I can use about him."

"Anyone who calls himself an American and wants to get rid of American jobs isn't worth much in my book," said Tim Kinjorski, 50, a plant worker. "He's been blinded by his own hatred of the unions."

Staff researchers Julie Tate and Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.


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