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GM plant here is winding down in Spotsylvania

GM plant here is winding down

 

General Motors Powertrain facility in Spotsylvania is winding down work this fall; federal trust could provide money for revitalization from $800 million fund

 

Date published: 6/20/2010

BY KELLY HANNON

 

After 31 years of production at the General Motors Powertrain plant in Spotsylvania County, preparations are being made to cease work in September.

Mary Ann Brown, a General Motors spokeswoman, said she cannot share the precise closing date yet, but confirmed the factory was on target to close in September. GM will notify employees of the closing date first, then share it with the public, Brown said.

One year ago this month, GM announced the Powertrain plant in Spotsylvania would close by the end of 2010. GM had filed for bankruptcy, and had been taken over by the federal government as part of an unprecedented rescue of the domestic auto industry. The plant is GM’s only production facility in Virginia.

Fewer than 70 employees remain in the 289,000-square-foot building on Tidewater Trail, where torque-converter clutches were made for GM automatic transmissions since 1979.

At the factory’s peak in the early 1990s, it employed 280 hourly workers and kept production going on three shifts around the clock.

What will happen after GM departs the property is an open question.

Two companies, Hilco Industrial and Maynard Industries, are handling all auctions nationwide of GM property for Motors Liquidation Co., which will take over the Fredericksburg facility once GM is done with it this fall. GM is leasing the property from the liquidation firm.

The facility is expected to be available to a new tenant in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to Motors Liquidation Co.

GM will assess what production equipment can be used elsewhere in other plants, and anything leftover will be turned over to Motors Liquidation Co., Brown said.

Virginia could eventually get financial assistance from the federal government to clean up the environment around the plant, revitalize the property or offset lost property taxes.

In May, President Obama announced he wanted to create a federal trust with more than $800 million to help communities redevelop abandoned GM plants and put them back into use.

The same week, the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers released a report that detailed plans for such a federal trust, which would have to be approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The money would be allocated across 90 sites in 14 states.

The future for GM’s Fredericksburg-area employees is varied.

GM was able to relocate some employees.

Seven hourly workers who were willing to move found new jobs at a GM Baltimore plant staying open, along with one salaried employee, Brown said. The Baltimore plant is producing transmissions for hybrid GM vehicles. Another salaried employee accepted a job at a Buffalo, N.Y., plant.

GM is still working to find new positions for individuals who wish to stay with the company. There are five salaried employees, 12 union hourly employees, eight temporary employees, and 39 contract workers.

"I think it’s an extremely low number that is not going to be placed," Brown said.

Only a fraction of union employees remain, said Lois Doles, president of United Auto Workers Local 2123. The local union chapter has represented many of the GM plant’s hourly workers.

Doles, who has worked at the Powertrain plant for 25 years, did not have the required 30 years to retire. Instead, she accepted an offer from GM for employees who had at least 10 years of service with the company.

When Doles turns 50 in two years, she will receive a monthly pension from GM, although it will be smaller than it would have been if she had 30 years of service.

Other UAW members made a variety of choices, she said. Some with 30 years of service or more retired, while others with less than 30 years of service took a GM offer for a modified retirement package, as she did.

A few workers with 30 years of service or more who could have retired elected to transfer to another plant and continue working.

She said she appreciates that GM has helped employees with the transition. "We did have options we weren’t just left out there hanging. That’s one positive thing about it," Doles said.

She said there has been discussion about holding job transition clinics at the plant, so workers can prepare for job interviews and developing a resume.

Doles will be among the job hunters. She has an associate degree in business from Rappahannock Community College, which she earned over her career with help from GM’s tuition assistance program, a benefit she is grateful she had.

Later this summer, UAW is planning a Fredericksburg-area event to honor the work employees performed at the plant over the past three decades. Former retirees will be there, along with current workers, Doles said.

For now, the mood at the plant seems to be one of acceptance, she said.

"They pretty much have gotten over the shock, because we know it is actually happening," Doles said.

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