GM plant closure puts workers in limbo

Marketplace Staff Jul 7, 2010

GM plant closure puts workers in limbo

Marketplace Staff Jul 7, 2010


HOST: General Motors says it’s starting to turn out more cars and trucks at its factories. Still, the company is downsizing. In Shreveport, La., a GM plant is preparing to close and employees who aren’t retiring are forced to choose: Lose your job or transfer to a plant someplace elsewhere in the country.

Red River Radio’s Kate Archer Kent reports that can be an excruciating decision.

Kate Archer Kent: Skeletons of pickup trucks glide along this conveyor belt. Rosie Salinas handles quality control and is monitoring her computer screen for little red boxes. One pops up indicating a shoulder harness isn’t properly attached.

Rosie Salinas: So then I go to that vehicle and I fix it, and then I come back and put it in that it’s been repaired.

Salinas has worked here for 13 years, and her career with GM is coming to an end. The Shreveport plant could close at any time in the next two years. GM doesn’t have a breakdown of who accepts transfers and who ultimately is laid off. Salinas has chosen not to transfer for the sake of her 14-year-old daughter.

Salinas: To start high school with new friends, to try to make new friends, would be devastating for her. So I’m not going to put her through something like that.

But her coworker Chris Antosik acted fast, putting in for a transfer. He didn’t want to take a chance losing his job. This is his last day at the Shreveport plant. The 1,000 workers here can choose from several dozen plants around the country as positions open up.

Antosik is moving to a stamping plant in Marion, Ind.

Chris Antosik: It’s going to be tough leaving, and I didn’t want to leave. But sometimes when the writing’s on the wall, you got to use your head not your heart then.

Four years ago, Antosik transferred to Shreveport. He thought it would be a stable move for him and his wife, a GM contract worker.

Antosik: With the Hummer product as well as it was running four years ago, and the Canyon and Colorado, we thought we’d be able to come down here and retire from this plant with ease, but it’s out of our control.

Professor Wendy Boswell studies employee turnover at Texas A&M University’s human resource management center. She says it used to be that people were wedded to their jobs, willing to move anywhere for the company. But now, hometown ties often keep workers grounded.

Wendy Boswell: We have people with commitments to their community, their churches, relationships. And when faced with this decision to stay employed, but really sever all those links, that’s obviously not that easy to make that decision.

Rosie Salinas still lies awake at night wondering if she made the right decision. She missed out on her kids’ after-school activities while working the night shift for many years. She didn’t want to transfer to Arlington, Texas, and only see them on weekends. She hopes the family can scrape by on her husband’s salary in beverage sales.

Salinas: I know it’s the right decision. But you know, it’s still a battle. I don’t know what my future holds.

The plant’s personnel director Paul Emond calls the choice between transferring and staying the fatal decision — and he should know. He’s been with GM for 41 years and has been transferred many times.

Paul Emond: On the salaried side, you don’t always get an option. We usually get told: “Your next job on Monday is…” “OK.” It becomes one of those do you become stagnant or do you continue to grow and develop and use all the things you’ve kind of grown and developed with?

In this case, he was transferred to Shreveport to close the plant down. And what he does next is up to GM.

In Shreveport, La., I’m Kate Archer Kent for Marketplace.

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