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Workers' reactions mixed on retirement enticements


Published: Thu, March 23, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


Some workers are eager to leave with a buyout, while others will stay.
By DON SHILLING
and PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
Jeff Steiner could walk away from his job at General Motors with a $140,000 buyout.
No deal, said the 33-year-old Hartford resident who has 10 years at GM's Lordstown plant.
"$140,000 is a big chunk of money, but I wouldn't do it," he said Wednesday outside the plant after GM announced a buyout plan to reduce its work force.
Steiner has a college degree in environmental science, but he is hoping to finish his career at the Lordstown plant. He expects, however, that other young workers will take the cash, especially ones who have a spouse with a good job.
GM would give workers between $35,000 and $140,000, depending on years of service and whether they want to keep the company's post-retirement benefits. News reports said workers with at least 10 years' service could receive $140,000 if they cut ties with the company.
Some older workers said they are waiting for details but are hoping they are eligible for a $35,000 bonus that's to be available to workers with at least 30 years who opt to retire.
"That would be enough to kick me out of here," said Ralph Dingess, 57, of Austintown.
After working 36 years at the plant, he just feels its time to find another job where he has to work only two or three days a week.
Here are concerns
Some workers with that much service time are happy to keep working, however.
"$35,000 is not enough. I'm too young," said Jim Simpson, 56, of Vienna.
He said he would receive a pension of $1,500 a month if he retired now, plus a supplemental benefit of $1,200 a month until he started receiving Social Security.
Another worker who wouldn't give his name said he would take the buyout if he felt secure that the supplemental benefit would be there until he turns 62 in eight years. He is worried the benefit could be eliminated in the next round of contract negotiations in 2007 of if GM files for bankruptcy protection.
One worker said $35,000 really wouldn't be that much after taxes.
"I'd have to get another job," said the worker who declined to give his name.
But Ron and Linda Miller, both 56, of Austintown, said they are ready to retire and move to Arizona.
News reports say workers close to having 30 years will be credited with full retirement benefits but not receive a buyout.
The Millers, who each have 28 years of service, said they don't need the extra payment -- the full pensions would be enough.
Jim Graham, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112, said he expects "quite a few" of the assembly plant workers to retire under the deal.
About 1,600 of the assembly plant's 3,400 members have 30 years of service and can retire with full benefits.
Graham also expects them to be replaced with workers who transfer to Lordstown complex because he thinks the work force cannot be cut.
The plant produces the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac models for Canada and Mexico. Soon, however, the plant will begin making the Pontiac G5, a sister car to the Cobalt, for sale in the United States.
Over the past 18 months, the plant has received 100 workers who have been transferred from other GM plants, Graham said. Those workers have come from plants in other states, where GM has cut back production or closed plants.
Transfers expected
Jim Kaster, president of UAW Local 1714, said he also expects those who leave Lordstown's fabricating plant to be replaced with transfers.
"You'd almost have to do that, or you wouldn't be able to run the plant," he said.
The plant, which makes parts for the assembly plant, has about 1,500 hourly workers, with 730 having 30 years of service. Many of them have been waiting for a buyout, Kaster said.
"The news is just sinking in. We have a lot of excitement in the plant," he said.
The buyout deal was negotiated among GM, United Auto Workers and Delphi Corp.
Delphi's local division, Delphi Packard Electric Systems, isn't affected by the deal, however, because its workers are represented by the International Union of Electrical Workers. That union still is negotiating with Delphi and GM.
Rich Garbus, 55, of Niles, a 35-year Packard employee, said he would take a $35,000 buyout if one becomes available to IUE workers.
"I'm going to take it because I want to get out, especially if I can go out under GM," Garbus said. "They're responsible for 27 years of my retirement," he said.
Delphi was spun off from GM in 1999. The GM-UAW deal reportedly includes some Delphi workers' being able to transfer back to GM and retire. Another provision calls for up to 5,000 UAW members working for Delphi to be eligible to return to GM to work.
Randy McCartney of Canfield, an 11-year Packard employee, said that, if IUE workers were also allowed to return to GM, and if he becomes eligible, he'd want to make the switch "for a good job, hopefully." Speaking of Delphi, he added: "It's uncertain here what's going to happen."
Delphi filed for bankruptcy protection in October and is negotiating cuts in pay and benefits with the UAW and IUE.


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