Lordstown GM workers fear more cuts

By Don Shilling

The summer shutdown at the plant has been extended to six weeks.

LORDSTOWN — General Motors workers here said they are not surprised that they will be off for an extra-long shutdown this summer and just hope they will come back July 13 as planned.

Burdened with too much inventory, GM said Thursday it will close its Lordstown complex for six weeks starting at the close of production May 29.

Workers leaving the complex Thursday said they won’t be surprised if they come back to a company in bankruptcy that pays them less money than the $29 an hour that longtime production workers make now.

“Everybody in the plant thinks we’re going into bankruptcy. Everybody thinks we’ll be coming back in July at $15 an hour,” said one man who has worked at the facility for 37 years but who did not want to give his name.

Tony Clarke, GM North America president, declined to discuss the possible bankruptcy of the automaker when speaking with reporters Thursday about the idling of 13 of GM’s 22 assembly plants in the U.S. and Mexico between May and July.

GM is living on $13.4 billion in federal loans and has until June 1 to prove to federal officials that it has developed a viable turnaround plan. If it fails, it will not receive more federal loans and would be forced to reorganize in bankruptcy court.

GM said Thursday that dealers have 767,000 vehicles in stock and it intends to reduce that to 525,000 by the end of July by shutting down the 13 plants for between three and 11 weeks.

Clarke said the timing of the shutdowns also makes sense with the precarious future of Delphi Corp., a key supplier to GM. GM has been negotiating with Delphi and its lenders to make sure it continues to produce parts for the automaker despite its lingering bankruptcy case.

“Without successful resolution of this dispute, it is General Motors’ view that Delphi or its lenders could force GM into an uncontrolled shutdown with severe negative consequences for the U.S. automotive industry,” GM’s statement said.

The Lordstown complex, which makes the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5, had previously been scheduled to be down the week of June 22 to reduce inventories. Plus, the two weeks starting June 29 were scheduled as the normal summer shutdown where the complex is prepared for the next model year.

GM added three additional weeks of shutdown in its announcement Thursday.

GM said salaried as well as hourly workers at plants would be laid off during down weeks. The Lords- town complex has about 1,775 hourly and 225 salaried workers left after it reduced its work force this year from three shifts to one shift.

Union workers who are laid off receive state unemployment and supplemental pay from the company that amounts to 72 percent of gross take-home pay after taxes. Salaried workers will receive some income assistance, Clarke said.

Whenever the Lordstown complex shuts down, hundreds of other area workers also are laid off because suppliers shut down their operations.

Jim Vick of Newton Falls, an assembler with 31 years at the auto plant, said workers “weren’t too happy” when they learned Thursday about the length of the shutdown. “They were a little down over it.”

He agrees that a large number of his co-workers think bankruptcy is coming.

“I think there’s more people who think they’re going into bankruptcy than anything else,” he said.

Robert Polansky of Lordstown, a 42-year veteran of GM, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the shutdown was extended because of how car sales have slowed in the recession. He stressed, however, that he doesn’t think the slowdown is the fault of the automakers or their products.

“Whatever is going on right now is not GM’s fault, or Ford’s or Chrysler’s,” he said. “The problem is in this area there are no jobs. People are afraid to spend money.”

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