‘Business as usual’ at GM

Workers still waiting for layoff notices

LORDSTOWN — Marquif Brown said he was “so close, so very close” to moving up in seniority from temporary to permanent employee at the General Motors Assembly Complex.

But the Youngstown man watched that possibility fade last week after the Detroit automaker announced plans to cut the third shifts at the Lordstown plant, where the Chevrolet Cruze is made, and the Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant in Michigan — eliminating a combined 2,000 jobs in January.

“I’m number one on the temp list,” said Brown, who started working at Lordstown in March 2015. “If GM had hired one more full-time person from the temp list, that could have been me.”

At this point, Brown said, he “doesn’t even have transfer rights” that would allow him to move to another GM facility along with some of his colleagues.

Last Wednesday, GM said 1,202 hourly workers will lose their jobs at Lordstown and 43 salaried employees are expected to voluntarily transfer to other plants, effective Jan. 23, because consumer demand has shifted from smaller cars, including the Cruze, to crossovers, trucks and SUVs.

The laid-off workers’ final day is expected to be Jan. 20, according to a Nov. 9 Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice from GM to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The notice lists hundreds of workers’ names who could be impacted by permanent layoffs.

On Monday, United Auto Workers Local 1714 President Rob Morales said he believes the total job loss is somewhat lower than WARN notice indicates and plant leaders now say there could be even fewer cuts than the 1,245 announced last week. As of Monday, workers had not received official layoff notices.

Jobs potentially to be cut, according to the WARN notice, include 242 temporary assembly production; 665 regular assembly production; 148 temporary stamping production; 169 regular stamping production; 78 skilled trades; and 43 salaried positions.

Some workers said it’s been a guessing game to determine whether they’re on the list. Matthew Streb of Austintown, a permanent, or regular employee, who has worked at GM 3 1/2 years, said based on rough estimates, some workers figure they’re safe if they were hired in 2008 or earlier. The WARN list includes hundreds of assembly workers with start dates going back to June 30, 2008. Several skilled trades workers , who are classified as millwrights, pipefitters and tool and die makers, have start dates stretching back to the 1980s or 1990s.

Streb said many workers were “in a state of disbelief” at first, but this week “it’s business as usual” as they wait for their notices.

“We typically hear rumors in the plant, but they never amount to anything,” he said. “But this, it just came out of the blue. I don’t think any of us really expected it, not right now, not like this.”

Before starting at GM, Streb, who is married with children, worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, but saw GM as a better opportunity.

“Lordstown had a good run with the Cruze,” he said. “But markets change. Gas prices are lower now and people want the bigger vehicles. It’s the nature of this business.”

Lordstown employs about 4,500 people. The plant started making the Cruze exclusively in 2010, two years after the top-selling small car was launched. After GM invested $250 million to retool the plant, the next-generation Cruze went into production here in February.

Last Thursday, UAW President Dennis Williams said there is a possibility enough jobs  are available at other GM facilities, including in Spring Hill, Tenn. where GM said it will add 800 positions, to accommodate all of the employees laid off from the two plants. However, Williams added, he wasn’t sure whether that option would pan out. In Michigan, 810 hourly and 29 salaried workers will lose their jobs, effective Jan. 16. The plant employs 2,700 and makes the Cadillac ATS and CTS and Chevrolet Camaro.

Streb said he knows some of his colleagues  at Lordstown have already started the process of transferring to another GM facility.

“It’s an option,” he said. “There are some people who have been through this before, have moved and are accustomed to it. But for some of us, this is our home and we want to stay here. It’s hard. I don’t want to uproot my family. But a lot of people have been down this road before. They survived. I survived. I know my family and I will be OK.”

Brown, who previously worked in merchandising for Home Depot, said there was some panic among workers.

“When we left work Monday, everything was good,” he said. “Tuesday had the day off for the election, then Wednesday we come back to work and just like that we realize we won’t have a job in a couple of months. It was like, wow, and morale dropped that fast, just like that.”

Brown, who’s single, said he’s concerned about his colleagues who have families who might not be able to adjust as easily as he believes he will.

“It’s hard, especially this close to the holidays and all,” he said. “But I’m going to stay calm and consider my options. I’m sure it will sink in more and more as Jan. 23 approaches. But complaining won’t change anything. I saw GM as a good opportunity when I went there, and it was for me. I’ll just do the best I can from this point on.”