GM workers disagree on whether the fabrication plant's future is in jeopardy.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
LORDSTOWN -- Production workers at General Motors' fabrication plant in Lordstown are uneasy about being asked to change how they do their jobs in exchange for the promise of a $230 million investment.
The question is whether there is enough uneasiness to stop passage of a new labor contract that GM says it needs before it will invest in the plant, which makes parts for the adjacent car assembly plant.
Several production workers interviewed Wednesday said the pact would be rejected or the vote is too close to call.
Skilled trades workers said, however, that they think it will pass because workers understand GM is insisting on new work rules.
"It has to. They'll shut down that plant in a heartbeat," said Dennis Stahl of Salem.
Worker's view: Linda Lesko of Youngstown, a production worker who said she voted against the agreement, doesn't think GM would close the plant. Suppliers to the assembly plant are preparing new local plants, showing that GM intends to keep the Lordstown complex, she said.
"Their greatest weapon is fear. All automakers thrive on saying, 'We're going to shut your plant down.'"
GM hasn't threatened to close the fabrication plant without the agreement but has said it looks more favorably on plants that are willing to negotiate advance labor contracts such as this one, said Bob Chambers, Local 1714 president.
The tentative agreement was reached last week. Voting continues through 11 p.m. today.
GM told union officials that if the contract passes and the Lordstown Assembly Plant receives a new model, it will modernize the fabrication plant. The four-year agreement would become effective Sept. 14, 2003, but only if GM awards a new product to the assembly plant.
About 60 percent of the 2,400 workers in the plant are in production jobs, which would be greatly affected by the agreement because it would initiate work teams. Instead of having just one job, workers would rotate among jobs.
Less affected: Skilled trades workers, such as electricians or pipefitters, would be less affected. They wouldn't have to learn other trades but some would have to rotate among jobs within their classficiation.
Lesko said she voted against the agreement because she doesn't want to work other jobs.
"I've finally got in 23 years' seniority so I could get a halfway decent job as an inspector," Lesko said.
Under the agreement, she also would have to run presses, stack metal panels and drive a forklift.
Lesko said she has a back injury, which has been feeling better since she became an inspector. She is worried that returning to other jobs could aggravate her injury.
A worker who didn't want to give his name said he also was against rotating jobs. He said he likes his assignment building siderails because he has to produce fewer parts per hour than some other areas. He thinks he also would work in the areas with more rapid production rates under the agreement.
"I've got 23 years in and I've got an easier job, but I would have to do a harder job," he said.
Skilled trades workers said, however, it was inevitable that the team concept would come to the plant because all other GM fabricating plants have it. They said the workers should be able to adjust with the training that GM is offering.
"Everybody's going to have to do a little more," Stahl said. "Some people are OK with that, and some aren't."