UAW workers facing tough decision

October 19, 2010

UAW workers facing tough decision

Some laid-off workers at GM Orion plant must transfer or wait, hope for opening

The Detroit News

Hundreds of laid-off workers at General Motors Co.’s Orion plant have until today to decide whether to take a job in Lordstown, Ohio, and keep their current wage, or risk falling into a lower-wage category once hiring is complete at Orion.

In a meeting at the Local 5960 Monday, about 100 members were given details about transferring to the Lordstown plant, where GM builds the Chevrolet Cruze, two Orion workers said.

The offer will test how many employees will move to Ohio so they can continue making Tier 1 wages starting at $28 an hour.

The move comes as GM seeks to eventually turn Orion Assembly into an all Tier 2 pay level plant. Those workers make roughly half of the traditional $28-an-hour wage.

Many first-tier workers with less seniority received letters last week about the transfer, said Nick Waun, a 31-year-old Orion worker who was among them.

If workers decide not to transfer, they face losing their supplemental pay, but can stay on unemployment,

Waun said workers were told.

Staying in Michigan would mean remaining on the wait list for a Tier 1 position to open at Orion, Waun said.

The contract agreement means about 700 of the roughly 1,150 laid-off union workers at the Orion factory could return at full wages and benefits, but the Tier 1 positions will be filled by seniority.

"We don’t feel we were given a choice here," said Waun, who was one of about 100 people who protested the Orion two-tier-wage agreement Saturday outside of the UAW’s Solidarity House headquarters in Detroit.

It’s unclear how many Orion workers were asked to transfer. Waun estimated about 400 members were asked to relocate, while another Orion worker, Louis Rocha, put the number at 275. UAW International and Local 5960 officials did not return calls for comment Monday.

"It’s my understanding a lot of people may reject the (transfer) offer," said Rocha, 50, who has four years at GM and another six years working for Delphi.

These workers have said they would prefer to stay at Orion, said Rocha, who indicated he had not received an offer.

While employees who receive transfer offers would not be forced to take a lower-wage job, it’s unclear when they could get a job at their former pay at the plant.

The Orion plant is the site of a landmark labor agreement that should allow the automaker for the first time to produce a subcompact car profitably in the United States.

The deal calls for 60 percent of all hourly workers at Orion to receive traditional production wages of $28 an hour with full benefits. The other 40 percent will receive Tier 2 wages equal to roughly half that of so-called legacy workers.

The contract agreement means about 700 of the roughly 1,150 laid-off union workers at the Orion factory could return at full wages and benefits.

The remaining laid-off workers could come back with Tier 2 wages and full benefits or seek a transfer to another GM plant, Local 5960 shop Chairman Mike Dunn said in an Oct. 3 webcast posted on the local’s website.

Dunn told members earlier this month that GM’s goal is to make Orion Assembly an all Tier 2 plant as long as it builds small cars.

"Now, that could take 20 years," Dunn said in the webcast.

As workers retire or transfer, the plant will have to hire new workers who under the UAW-GM contract would make the Tier 2 pay level. The agreement also prevents first-tier workers from transferring to Orion Assembly, Dunn said in the webcast.

"For the time being, this is the way the wording reads, and it’s there and that’s what it states," he said.

"But that does not mean that we’re going to be an all-Tier 2 plant when we go back."

GM proposed several options for staffing Orion, including recalling a higher percentage of Tier 2 workers, but the UAW leadership settled on the current language to help keep the plant open and preserve union jobs, Dunn said.

The Detroit automaker plans to build a replacement for the Aveo at the plant, along with a new Buick compact car. The plant has room for building a third vehicle, but GM hasn’t given any further details.

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