Crowd questions bankruptcy, buyout, impact on the Valley
Don't make more concessions, leaders urged the audience at the meeting.
By SEAN BARRON
YOUNGSTOWN -- Kay Beler said she's perplexed about how Delphi Corp. can declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy yet find money to help pay for a recent buyout with GM, invest money overseas and provide bonuses to top executives,
"I feel like I'm being forced into retirement to keep my benefits," said Beler, of North Jackson, a 38-year Delphi employee. "What affects me affects everyone in this community. Nobody's safe."
Denny Schuller of Cortland said he's worried about his wages being cut and, at age 59, not being able to get another comparable job. Schuller, a Delphi electrician and member of the International Union of Electrical Workers-Communications Workers of America Local 717, added that he's dismayed that there's been "no communication from local and national unions" regarding talks between Troy, Mich.-based Delphi Corp. and GM about Delphi's recent emergence from bankruptcy.
Schuller, a 25-year Delphi worker, and Beler were among about 40 workers, retirees and other people who attended an informational meeting Sunday at Youngstown State University that was set up by Soldiers of Solidarity, a labor movement formed in November. Among those at the three-hour session were teachers, steel workers and other members of about five local unions.
The meeting, sponsored by SOS, Internet publication Community Labor News, and YSU's Dr. James Dale Ethics Center, was closed to the press, but attendees spoke to reporters later. Among other things, leaders encouraged their audience to resist being forced to make more wage, pension and health-care concessions, organizers said.
Also discussed were ways to conduct a strike, how to work without a contract, how to use strategies such as work-to-rule -- following work rules in the contract to the letter, a tactic that can slow down a production line -- and how to effectively bring up issues at union meetings.
Betty Cline, an auditor at Delphi's plant on North River Road, Warren, said she's "tired of hearing about concessions" and is worried about how Delphi's proposal to cut workers' wages and health-care benefits will affect the Mahoning Valley. Cline, who also attended the meeting, said she remembers when many local steel workers lost their jobs and wonders how young people in the area starting out will be able to afford their homes if jobs aren't being brought in.
"When you work 30 years, you work with the assumption that promises will be kept. [Delphi] wants to take everything away," the 38-year employee said.
Delphi Corp., the nation's largest auto-parts manufacturer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Oct. 8. Delphi reached an agreement earlier this month with GM, its former parent company, and the United Auto Workers union to buy out thousands of hourly workers. The plan, subject to approval by a bankruptcy court, entails GM's paying for buyouts and assuming some post-retirement benefits for Delphi employees who go back to work for the automaker.
Up to 13,000 U.S. hourly workers could be eligible for early retirement buyouts of $35,000 to $140,000, according to the plan.
Ready to strike
Delphi has said it will ask Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain on Thursday to declare its union contracts void. Both the autoworkers and electrical workers have said they would strike if Judge Drain grants Delphi's wishes.
SOS leaders say some of the main purposes of their grass-roots efforts are to ensure solidarity among autoworkers as well as protect adequate wages, health care and pension benefits for workers.
Tony Budak, 63, who retired from Delphi in 2004, predicted the Delphi situation "will be catastrophic for local economies and businesses if we don't find a way to stop the erosion of jobs in the Mahoning Valley."
Budak, one of the meeting's facilitators, said the buyouts will encourage some people to retire from the company early while not replacing jobs, a process he said will cause businesses, local governments and other entities to struggle economically.
"How the hell will people make it? How will people survive?" he asked.
Criticized buyout plan
Gregg Shotwell, a machine operator at Delphi's plant near Grand Rapids, Mich., who also conducted the session, echoed Budak's assessment. He criticized the buyout plan as poor policy because many people may not be ready to quit for a variety of reasons. Those who take the offers will likely be workers who are ready to retire anyway and already have full pensions, Shotwell added.
"Most people felt it's a bad deal that saves a few at the expense of many," he said.
If GM has extra money, the company should place it back into pension funds "for the good of everyone. We don't want solutions that eliminate jobs," said the 55-year-old Shotwell, who's worked for 27 years at both companies.
Shotwell said a local steering committee was formed during the session. Problems associated with companies declaring bankruptcy and slashing workers' wages extend beyond Delphi, he continued.