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Workers' fear turns into joy



Published: Fri, August 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



For many GM workers, the announcement of Lordstown's new small-car line ended years of worry.

By CYNTHIA VINARSKY

and SHERRI L. SHAULIS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS

LORDSTOWN -- Louis Robinson says he always knew General Motors would bring its new generation of small cars to the Lordstown Assembly and Fabrication plants, but many of his co-workers didn't share his optimism.

"There was a lot of fear in the plants. People were so afraid GM would just close its two plants here and move away," the 29-year GM veteran said. "I kept telling them I knew it would come. It was just a matter of when."

Robinson was among a small group of GM employees who attended a press conference Thursday celebrating the automaker's decision to invest more than $550 million on updating the plants to accommodate the new small-car line.

A die setter in the fabricating plant and recording secretary of United Auto Workers Local 1714, Robinson said the fearful atmosphere has changed considerably since the news became public earlier this week. "We're overjoyed," he said. "We're just very, very happy."

Memories of opening day

For Ellie Monchak, the press event triggered her memories of the day GM cut the ribbon on the assembly plant in April 1966. The 37-year employee was there that day, one of the first 40 employees to be hired. "This is so reminiscent of the day we opened the plant," she said.

Monchak is executive secretary for assembly plant manager Maureen Midgely and held the same position under Midgely's predecessor, Herman Maass, so she's had a unique view of the emerging plans for the new car line.

"I see that they stay calm and focused and do whatever is necessary to get the job done," she said of the plant's top officials. "They really do work at it."

Waiting ends

Craig P. Nicholas, a 25-year GM veteran who spent the past 17 years as safety representative for UAW Local 1112, said Thursday's official announcement ended months of waiting for him and his colleagues.

"It seemed like every time they announced a date to make an announcement, that day would come and go," Nicholas said. "Morale would really start to hurt."

He first learned the plants had won the new product when the announcement was made at work late Tuesday. His first move was to call home to share the good news with his wife and family.

"There was some cheering, people giving high-fives and hugging," the Howland resident said, describing the atmosphere after third-shift GM workers got the official word it would get a new product.

"It really secures the future," Nicholas said. "I have a 19-year-old, a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old, and this now means I don't have to leave the Valley or look for employment somewhere else to provide for them."

'Can relax now'

Kenny Miles, a tow-truck driver at the fab plant and a trustee for UAW Local 1714, is another employee who never doubted the new product would come. "I felt confident because of our work force. We worked hard, and we did an overwhelmingly good job," the Cleveland resident said.

However, Miles said some of his co-workers were so worried the plants might close that they postponed buying a house or a car, or sending their children to college. "I'm happy they can relax now," he said. "I'm happy for the whole area."

Good news for younger people

Connie Rodgers of Austintown, who has worked at GM for 24 years, said it never crossed her mind that the local plant would not get the new small car.

"I'm very happy," she said. "I feel like all of us here are really blessed. We worked really hard for this."

Rodgers, a Local 1112 member who works putting in dashboards, has been off work for the past week after surgery on her arm. When she heard about the press conference, she made a point of attending.

"We've all been waiting for this for so long, I wanted to be out here and be a part of it," she said.

Rodgers said since the plant is staying open, it "makes life a lot better" for herself and her co-workers. While she may retire in the next six years, her son -- 26-year-old Carlos Harris, who also works at GM Lordstown -- will benefit from the new car line.

"This is really good for a lot of the younger people, who know now they will have jobs," she said.

vinarsky@vindy.com

slshaulis@vindy.com




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