GM Employees Split on Layoffs in Van Nuys

Times Staff Writer

General Motors auto workers in Van Nuys seemed divided Friday over a plan to cut their hours in half. It calls for employees to work only two weeks a month.

GM announced the plan Thursday as an alternative to a major layoff at the San Fernando Valley assembly plant. Much of the opposition seemed to focus on the plan's effect on the workers' seniority rights.

The plan was proposed by management and union officials at the Van Nuys plant and would go into effect Feb. 1. Both company and union officials predicted Thursday that members of United Auto Workers Local 645 will endorse the plan in a vote scheduled for shortly after Jan. 18, when employees return from a 3 1/2-week holiday layoff.

But some of the plant's older employees said in interviews Friday that they were against the proposal because it would reduce the hours of all employees by 50%, regardless of seniority. Some also said they would vote against it.

How Plan Would Work

"I am against it," said Robert Colletta, a 23-year veteran of the Van Nuys plant. "It takes our seniority away from us. We should be able to work full time."

Younger workers interviewed Friday said they generally were in favor of the plan because, at least temporarily, it allows them to keep jobs that they would otherwise lose in a layoff.

The Van Nuys plant ordinarily runs on two shifts--a day shift and a night shift. Under the proposal, the plant would staff only one shift at a time and employ workers on an alternating schedule. Day shift employees would work for two weeks while night shift employees were on layoff. Then night shift employees would work for two weeks and day employees would go on layoff.

The Van Nuys plant manufactures Pontiac Firebirds and Chevrolet Camaros.

Older workers, in explaining their opposition, zeroed in on concerns about how the plan would affect benefits that they would receive if GM should decide to permanently close the plant.

In addition to a salary, GM employees accumulate credits for time worked and lose credits during layoffs. In the event of a plant closure, those credits are used to help determine what benefits former employees should receive.

Some of the older workers said they do not want to give up any of their credits and maintains it is the start of a GM effort to eliminate seniority rights at the plant. "I think eventually they'll just lay off who they want and keep who they want, and seniority won't matter any more," Colletta said.

Proponents of the plan said older workers would only lose credits for a few months. The proposal covers the period from Feb. 1 to May 1, according to Ray Knudson, a board member of Local 645.

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