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Workers apprehensive on last day at GM Pontiac plant

September 29, 2009

Workers apprehensive on last day at GM Pontiac plant

The Detroit News

Pontiac — Workers at General Motors Co.’s truck plant left their jobs Tuesday wondering what will happen to them — and the community they served.

"Unemployment in Pontiac is 26 percent right now," said Jim Hall, a veteran auto worker and United Auto Worker union committeeman for Pontiac Assembly. "What’s going to happen when GM closes three plants here over the next year? You’re talking about more than 7,000 people out of work. We’re looking at an unemployment rate of 35 to 40 percent within a year."We worked with the Make-A-Wish foundation for years. We made a lot of wishes come true. We bought hundreds of bikes for local kids. We put together hundreds of Christmas baskets for needy families every year. You wonder: who is going to do that now?"

GM is scheduled to close the 37-year-old truck plant today. The plant makes heavy-duty GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups and employs about 1,000 workers, said GM spokesman Chris Lee.

The plant, built in 1972 for the production of medium-duty trucks, was among 14 manufacturing facilities that GM announced in June would close or be put on standby capacity in case vehicle demand increases.

The company said earlier this month that its plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., will add production of the heavy-duty pickups that have been made in Pontiac. It will take at least three months to add the shifts because workers must be moved and machinery must be disassembled and moved from Pontiac.

Some workers weren’t sure they’d be able to take jobs there if offered that opportunity and felt betrayed by the Obama administration after strong union support in the election.

Brian Moore, 56, a GM worker for 13 years said he wasn’t sure he would have a job elsewhere yet. He was waiting to hear whether he could "commute" to Fort Wayne.

He said he and many other UAW workers at Pontiac Assembly worked for months to elect Barack Obama. He feels betrayed that Obama didn’t fight to keep Pontiac Assembly open.

"How can Obama let General Motors take American bailout money, and let them close us while they keep open a Mexican truck plant?" he said. "I realize Mexicans need good jobs to support their families, too. But we are the foundation of truck building. We have built trucks here in Pontiac for more than 100 years. You support your foundation first. They should have kept Pontiac open and shut down the Silao (Mexico) plant first.

"We never felt our plant should close. We had the biggest capacity among all of GM’s truck plants, and we won several J.D. Power awards for quality. We did everything they asked to do — improve quality, cut millions in costs. We don’t understand why they’re closing us down and not Mexico."

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