GM axes last five UAW workers
GM axes last five UAW workers
After 50 years at plant, union vacates building
By LAURA BOMYEA
SUNDAY, AUGUST 16, 2009
MASSENA — A United Auto Workers flag has flown over the General Motors Powertrain Plant here for more than 50 years, but it’s gone today, along with the union’s five remaining workers, who were informed last week they no longer have jobs.
A handful of salaried employees reportedly will remain for a little while longer, though the plant already is manned almost exclusively by private contractors.
The last of the union workers say they were told rather abruptly about the decision, which also included orders to clear all UAW property off the premises by midnight Friday.
The final five spent the better part of the day Friday feverishly packing up files, equipment and a half century’s worth of stuff, cleaning out lockers and saying goodbye to the plant.
By evening, shop chairman Robert Cunningham and joint program representative Ronald P. McDougall were clearing out the last of the union’s belongings, including the iconic UAW flag, which they lowered solemnly before leaving the plant for the last time.
"It was a hard day," Mr. Cunningham said. "We were given notice Tuesday that the UAW must vacate the building, but we figured we had some time. They told us (Friday) morning we had to have everything out by midnight."
"It was a shock," benefits representative Melanie Cunningham said during a break from moving boxes and files from the plant into the Max Ryan UAW Hall on Andrews Street.
Mr. McDougall, Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham and two other workers laid off — the union’s skilled trades representative and the plant’s lone remaining electrician — have been the only union workers in the plant since July.
The plant officially shut down June 26, when approximately 20 workers remained and, after a two-week July break taken by plants across the country, only the five returned July 13. After a month back at the plant, the last five UAW workers joined 24 of their colleagues already on layoff.
All remaining GM workers are now employees of the New GM, including the 29 Massena workers now on layoff, New GM spokesman Dan Flores said.
An agreement forged between the UAW International and New GM during the company’s bankruptcy hearings guarantees furloughed employees the same protections they would have enjoyed with Old GM — access to supplemental pay from the union and state unemployment benefits as well as options to transfer to another plant or enroll in a buyout program if another is offered.
But the polluted Massena plant stayed with Old GM, which is now called Motors Liquidation Co. It was Motors Liquidation that made the call to remove the last of the union work force from the plant, Mr. Cunningham said.
Motors Liquidation spokes- man Tim Yost characterized Friday’s events as a transfer of power.
"It’s a handoff of control and management of the plant from New GM to Motors Liquidation," he said.
In its heyday, the Massena Powertrain Plant was home to more than 800 workers.
According to Environmental Protection Agency project manager Anne Kelly, the GM remediation team has changed and a new team employed by Motors Liquidation will address pollution at the federal Superfund site.
"The team we have worked with now works for New GM, so we have a set of new contacts at Motors Liquidation," Ms. Kelly said. "So far they have maintained all the contracts in Massena. The subcontractors who have done the cleanup, Arcadis, are staying to do the work."
Security agency Securitas has roughly 10 employees working at the plant while another private contractor is overseeing the management of the facility’s water treatment plant, which Motors Liquidation is legally obligated to run as part of the EPA’s Record of Decision on the toxic waste there.
As the blue and gold union colors made their way down the flagpole Friday night, next to an empty parking lot that once teemed with traffic, a profound sense of finality filled the air.
"I’ve been with GM for over 40 years. I don’t know if this is my last day with GM or not, but it kind of feels like it," Mr. McDougall said quietly.
"People can say what they want about the recession bottoming out and the layoffs being over," he said, "but for some of us it just started."