GM Workers Face Daily Uncertainty, Fear Over Closures
SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — Charlotte and Walt Kowalcyk were going to retire from the local General Motors plant in 2013.
He would've had nearly 45 years of service under his belt, while she would have logged 21 years. It would have given them financial security for the rest of their days.
Now the Kowalcyks go to work every day under a cloud of uncertainty.
The GM plant, located in the outskirts of Caddo Parish, has been slated for closure by mid-2012, just one year shy of the Kowalcyks' retirement goal.
The plant recently built its last Hummer, leaving the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon as the only products in its lineup. It had previously built the Hummer H3 and H3T.
Now that the Hummer is gone, GM announced the plant's annual summer shutdown will be three weeks instead of two. The shutdown begins June 28. They return to work July 19.
But not all the approximately 900 hourly workers will return that day.
United Auto Workers Local 2166 President Doug Ebey said management has told them that they will reduce the speed of the assembly line from 40 vehicles an hour to 28, meaning they will need fewer workers to produce their products.
"Management is saying the reduction will affect 200 people," Ebey said. "The people affected are mostly going to be temporary workers."
The number may be 150 to 200, Ebey said, adding that the cuts will be seniority based.
Workers like Charlotte Kowalcyk, while not at risk for the immediate layoffs because of seniority, are left to ponder their futures beyond 2012.
Transferring to another GM facility is an option, but there is no guarantee that Kowalcyk and her husband would get jobs in the same plant, she said.
If they both retired now, she is unsure of their financial situation, and she may have to go back to work.
"When we retire, we want to be retired and not have to go back to work," she said. "There's just not enough information to make a decision at this point."
Meanwhile, GM workers aren't the only ones who have to make a decision about the future.
Local and state officials have been working behind the scenes to secure the plant's future.
Last week, the federal government set aside $800 million in a trust to pay for the cleanup and maintenance costs of about 90 GM plants that have closed or are set to be closed, including the Shreveport site. About $536 million will be set aside for cleanup, with about $300 million for the maintenance.
Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said GM Shreveport's status as one of the most modern facilities in the country means not much of those funds will be used for environmental cleanup locally.
The other pool of funds would be used only for basic property management, like paying for property taxes.
However, finding a suitor for the facility if it closes is still a top priority of the state, Moret said.
"We've talked with a variety of potential prospects," he said. "Three things are working in our favor right now. The economy is improving. Auto sales are improving, and we are getting closer to the date of when production at the plant will be finished."