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Many GM workers yearn to go home



Published: Sun, October 7, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.

By BURTON SPEAKMAN

bspeakman@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The General Motors Co. plant in Lordstown has been awash in good news recently with the company’s $200 million commitment to build the next-

generation Cruze there.

In addition, the Cruze was the

nation’s best-selling small car in August and September.

Officials also have announced GM workers who were transferred to Lordstown may get an opportunity to return to a plant closer to their home.

At the same time, a group of families working for GM in Kansas City, Kan., wants nothing more than to return to their home in Ohio.

Their stories are similar: They already had worked for GM for decades and did not want to risk losing their jobs by being unwilling to transfer during the company’s 2008 reorganization. They left behind families — and homes they often couldn’t sell — to move across the country to keep their GM jobs.

The moves came with some perks — bonuses of $25,000 or $30,000 to relocate — but to them, the bonuses didn’t offset the cost of what they left behind.

Jeff Schwab was a 15-year veteran with Delphi when he learned he could lose his job in January 2008. He and his wife, Kim, had purchased a home in Niles four months earlier.

Schwab said he was given the choice of more than 40 GM plants to which he could accept a transfer. To make sure he would keep working for GM, he provided 25

potential plant options.

Companywide GM

relocated 6,500 employees from their home plants, according to a letter sent in late June when union members were being asked about their interest in transferring by Joe Ashton, UAW vice president, and Cathy Clegg, vice president of GM labor relations.

Schwab was sent first to St. Louis, where he worked a few months before being laid off. He was then transferred to Kansas City, Kan., where he has been for more than two years.

“A lot of my friends didn’t have to go through all of this because they only put down one plant they were willing to transfer to. They weren’t willing to move their families,” Schwab said.

Part of the transfer was signing a contract that stated he would not apply for a transfer to another plant for three years. Schwab’s contract will be up in a month.

“I’ve got friends who have finished their contracts and put in for transfers to Lordstown.

What they’re being told is they’ll have to wait for the plant to put in a request for workers,” he said. “We’ve been told it shouldn’t be a problem because nobody wants to transfer to

Lordstown.”

Transferred employees should have received the

option to return to their home plant instead of

Lordstown hiring 129 temporary workers as full-time employees in May 2012, Schwab said. GM can find new workers for any of its plants, he maintained.

“We’re grateful to still

have a job with GM,” Kim Schwab said. “We just want to come home. Our whole family is there, our life is there.”

Shirla Pullin is another former Delphi worker who has been transferred twice starting near St. Louis before heading to Fort Wayne, Ind. Pullin still owns a home in Champion, in which her daughter and granddaughter live.

A number of Delphi workers were able to transfer to the Lordstown GM plant by waiting a little longer. But Pullin said she didn’t wait because she already had 20 years toward her retirement and was afraid Delphi would close completely and she would lose her job permanently.

“They got us to agree to transfers without giving us the big picture. They get you to make a decision with only part of the information,” she said.

There potentially is another problem with the one-time transfer. When Delphi employees were sent to GM plants around the country, their new plant was classified as their home plant, Pullin said.

Thus far she has not been able to find out if she would be able to go to Lordstown before she completes her three-year contract even if there were an opening, she said. It would be March 2013 before her contract expires.

She has watched some people transfer in and out of the Fort Wayne plant as part of the option to return home, Pullin said.

“It’s like a big puzzle they’re trying to put together,” she said.

Much of the problem stems from when GM tried to spin off Delphi, said Tom Kirin, a former Delphi Packard worker in Warren with a home in Champion. He now works in Kansas City after first being sent to St. Louis.

“When I was hired it was a General Motors plant,” he said.

But now workers from Delphi, although they maintained their time in for pensions and other matters, have lost seniority in areas such as job and shift selection that could also hurt them in transferring, Kirin said. There also was the

issue of the contract calling for transfer payments for workers.

“I don’t care about the payment. It’s more important to just get home with my kids and grandkids,” he said.

Ted and Vickie Thompson both signed three-year agreements to move to Kansas City after the plant in Mansfield where they worked was shut down.

Since their three-year contract expired, the only contact the Thompsons have had with GM is a letter stating there are no available spots in Lordstown or Parma for them to transfer.

“We’re trying to get back to Lordstown because it’s the closest place to home. We just want to get back home and close to our family,” Ted Thompson said. “I’ve got two grandkids who miss me and two who are about 2 years old who don’t even know who I am.”

His mother also had recent surgery and Thompson and his wife could not get back, he said.

Lordstown is still an hour and 45 minutes to two hours from home, but at least then it would be possible to return for weekends or an emergency, Thompson said. The 121⁄2- hour trip now makes that impossible.

Before the Lordstown plant hired temp workers in May, the company should have considered whether workers who had been transferred wanted to come back, he said.

“I’m proud to work at GM. My wife and I each drive GM vehicles,” Thompson said. “GM makes a high-quality product, but it would make an even higher-quality product if all its employees were happy and there weren’t some disgruntled [people]. I know there a number of disgruntled workers down here.”

After 12 years with the company and never

having a problem, Thompson said he believes GM owes it to him and others

who left their home to get a chance to return.

Thompson said the union and company officials in Kansas City aren’t providing much information about transfer possibilities.

Attempts to contact GM in Detroit for additional comment were unsuccessful.

“It’s all kind of like hush, hush. Nobody really wants to talk about it,” he said. “I’m not going to get settled, and I’m not going to be happy until I get to come back home. Kansas City is nice; there’s a lot to do here, but it’s not for me.”

Thompson said he and his wife pay $900 a month in rent, plus another $1,100 a month for the mortgage for their Mansfield home.

“Mansfield was devastated when GM shut down the plant. There are vacant homes everywhere. My house is probably worth 70 percent of what it used to be,” he said.

Glenn Johnson, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112, said in addition to workers in Kansas City, he has been contacted about a few in Shreveport, La, and in the Carolinas who want to come back to Lordstown.

“The issue is we have to follow the national contract,”

he said.

It is unlikely there would be any openings at the Lordstown plant until some of the workers here are able to transfer, Johnson said. The timing for that occurring has not been determined.

Both Johnson and Dave Green, president of UAW Local 1714, agreed they would like for all GM workers to be able to return to plants closer to their families if they choose.

“It’s a good thing that people want to come back to the Mahoning Valley,” Green said. “For years we didn’t hear anything except that people wanted to get out of here.”


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