Some Relocated GM Workers Feeling Duped : Labor: They moved to Midwest to work at plant that’s been sold. Union, company say pact will address concerns.
Duane Kennedy never wanted to leave Southern California, but after the shutdown of the Van Nuys General Motors plant eliminated his cherished factory job, he relented. Early last summer, he accepted a company transfer to a plant in Anderson, Ind.
Kennedy’s family ties to the Los Angeles area were strong, yet finding a way to stay with GM came first. The story was much the same for many of the other 80 or so former Van Nuys workers who also relocated to the central Indiana community, drawn by the attractive pay, benefits and ostensible security of a GM job.
But now, some of these workers worry that they were duped. The reason: GM sold some of its Anderson operations earlier this month to a new venture. In all, about 40 of the Van Nuys veterans--along with 2,200 other workers, including many other transferees--no longer work for the giant auto maker.
“I ended up being sold off to a company that I had no desire to work for,” said Kennedy, 35, whose father and father-in-law preceded him at the Van Nuys GM plant.
The tale of these former Van Nuys workers is hardly a disaster to rival what has happened to so many other families in recession-ravaged Southern California. “These folks continue to be gainfully employed,” said Charles Licari, a GM spokesman in Detroit. “They’re not suddenly without jobs.”
At the same time, the situation is another poignant irony involving a long-troubled plant that continues to generate controversy two years after it was closed.
Many of the Van Nuys veterans now in Indiana were the most eager workers who, instead of drawing generous GM jobless benefits, seized one of the first opportunities they could to land a new job with the company. Others sensed--incorrectly, as it turned out--that the union would fail to win generous extended jobless benefits from GM.
Whatever their motivation, the Van Nuys veterans who jumped at the chance to return to work received skimpy relocation packages normally in the range of $1,000 to $3,000. Plus, they now have the jitters about being sold off by GM. Although their new employer has promised to match the workers’ pay and benefits under the current union contract, many employees worry about what will happen when the agreement expires in two years.
While other workers whose plants are taken over in corporate acquisitions often face harsher fates, the changeover in Anderson is upsetting for many blue-collar workers who said goodby to the familiar comforts of their hometowns to stay with GM.
Meanwhile, the former Van Nuys workers who put off taking new jobs as long as possible in favor of continuing to receive GM jobless benefits checks of $740 a week or more are being rewarded for waiting things out.
This spring GM started offering relocation packages worth up to $60,000, including $25,000 signing bonuses, to former Van Nuys workers still on layoff. In addition, the workers are returning to work at bona fide GM plants and, in some cases, are landing sought-after lighter-duty jobs.
GM launched the lucrative relocation offer because it is tired of paying jobless benefits to laid-off employees at a time when it needs workers in other parts of the country. Still, it was galling to workers such as Kennedy, who said he received a relocation package of only $1,000.
“Why didn’t they offer us that?” Kennedy said of the $60,000 packages. “We were the ones who wanted to go to work.”
Kennedy and other former Van Nuys workers say they feel betrayed by both the company and their union. These workers contend they should have been warned of the potential for the Anderson divestiture back when they had the option of transferring elsewhere.
For Kennedy, the sense of hardship is deepened by the fact that his wife, Lisa, and the couple’s three children have stayed behind in the family’s house in Palmdale while the family sorts out the work situation.
“The only reason my husband moved 2,200 miles was to stay with General Motors,” and to keep the company’s retirement and medical benefits, said Lisa Kennedy, during a recent family visit to Indiana. “You can’t find those kinds of benefits anymore.”
Also upset are older Van Nuys veterans who were close to accumulating the 30 years they needed at GM to collect full pensions. Despite union and company assurances, some of these long-term employees fear their pension payouts will be reduced.
“We worked for GM all these years, and we feel like we’ve been cast aside,” said Frank Macomber, an Anderson worker who put in 25 years with GM.
But meanwhile, union and company officials are working on a pact that they say addresses those concerns.
They are negotiating final details of a “memorandum of understanding” for employees at the Anderson plants, along with a Meridian, Miss., facility, that GM sold to the new, Citicorp-led venture called Delco Remy America. Among other things, the pact will deal with pensions and the potential rights of some employees to transfer from Delco Remy back to GM facilities.
Licari, the GM spokesman, noted that transfers have been arranged for high-seniority workers in previous instances when the company divested plants. “I’m sure that something will be worked out down there” in Anderson, too, he said.
Delco Remy officials emphasize that they will honor the the current contract running until 1996. “We’re trying to make this a seamless transition,” said Thomas J. Snyder, president and chief operating officer of the new firm.
Trouble is, the workers who aren’t able to transfer from Delco Remy fear that their pay and benefits will start lagging behind once the contract expires or, worse, that the company will follow the example of other auto industry employers that have moved jobs to Mexico.
The Delco Remy employees have drawn support from a Michigan-based dissident workers group known as UAW Concerned that also has squabbled with both the union and management. UAW Concerned styles itself as a defender of the so-called GM gypsies, the moniker sometimes used for auto workers around the country who have been bounced from one plant to another due to layoffs and reorganizations.
Leaders of UAW Concerned accuse the union and GM, in the case of Delco Remy and in other instances, of deception, circumventing seniority rights and allowing temporary workers to displace longtime employees at certain plants.
The UAW and GM “totally misled” the Van Nuys workers, said Darrel D. Jacobs, a lawyer for UAW Concerned who is preparing a lawsuit against the union. “What I can’t figure out is why the union let GM get away with it.”
GM and UAW officials denied the group’s accusations.