Some relocated GM workers return home; others still wait

March 4, 2013
Some relocated GM workers return home; others still wait

For some General Motors Co. transplanted workers, the wait to return home is finally over. But for hundreds of others, such as Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant worker Pat Stout — who is three states and eight-plus hours away from family in Tennessee — the wait continues.

About 2,300 U.S. hourly workers were eligible for a special one-time move to their home plant or region without having to repay a $30,000 relocation bonus and before fulfilling a three-year requirement.

The moves were made possible after the Detroit automaker and the UAW last year signed a special agreement that would let them go home to plants that had been mothballed or where production had been trimmed.

GM said 1,600 workers initially applied to relocate to plants around the U.S. About 460 received offers based on plants’ hiring needs, and about 330 accepted, GM and the union said.

Some workers who had fulfilled the three-year requirement took transfers under other UAW agreements, and others decided to stay. But about 220 workers who didn’t get offers are still holding out hope. The majority want to return to GM’s Spring Hill Assembly Plant in Tennessee, according to the UAW.

UAW Vice President Joe Ashton said the union is committed to giving workers the opportunity to return home. He believes it will get done with job openings at GM plants. All hourly workers who left Michigan during GM’s financial crisis a few years ago and wanted to transfer home have returned, he said.

“I know it’s tough to be away from your family, so we’re going to do everything possible to reunite them with their families,” said Ashton, who oversees the GM bargaining unit.

Monica Nixon is one of the lucky ones to receive a transfer. She is among hundreds of hourly workers who transferred to GM’s Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant three years ago after GM closed its Spring Hill plant.

Last fall, Nixon, 48, put in a request to transfer back to Spring Hill, which has reopened, or to GM’s Bowling Green Assembly Plant in Kentucky.

There were a lot of anxious days before Nixon received a call from GM in late January saying she had a job in Bowling Green if she wanted it.

“I was like, ‘Thank you, Lord, thank you so much,'” she said.

Nixon starts March 11. She plans to commute the 80 minutes each way to Bowling Green from her home in Antioch, Tenn.

“It’s been very hard being away from my family and my fiance,” she said. “We spend so much money commuting back and forth. Now we won’t have to spend that. We’ll be in the same state.”

Nixon said she couldn’t wait for possible opportunities at Spring Hill. She must work six months at Bowling Green before she is eligible for a new transfer.

Longing to return home

In November 2011, GM said it would reopen Spring Hill to build the Chevrolet Equinox and other popular sellers. The company also said it would later invest $183 million to build midsize vehicles, creating another 1,200 jobs. The former Saturn plant was shuttered in 2009 after GM stopped production of the Chevrolet Traverse there.

GM spokesman Bill Grotz said GM isn’t ready to make any announcements on future vehicles at Spring Hill that would require a larger workforce.

Workers including Stout, 55, have been waiting and pinning hopes for more than a year on that product news.

Stout longs to return to Spring Hill. She’s worked at Lansing Delta Township for 37 months, after transferring from Spring Hill, where she had worked nearly 20 years.

Stout’s family is in Tennessee, including her husband, who is retired from GM, and a son who is in college.

When she does get home, Stout said she feels like a visitor. For now, she lives in a sparse one-bedroom apartment in DeWitt.

“I tell people it’s the most miserable broke and lonely I’ve ever been in my life,” she said. “Because the finances are so tight, you don’t do anything but work. Every extra penny goes back home to take care of your responsibilities there. There’s not a lot of fun.”

Stout said she’s happy that other workers have gotten to move, but with so many others on an emotional roller coaster, she wants the company and the union to give them a solid time frame for Spring Hill.

“Is it six months? Is it a year? If they can even tell us an approximate time, we can probably all deal with it,” she said. “But it’s the not knowing, it’s how much longer am I going to be in this situation?”

Temporary transfers

Ashton said the UAW has considered hardships and has worked with GM to allow at least temporary transfers to Spring Hill if employees had an ill spouse or child, for example.

UAW Local 602 Shop Chairman Rick Martinez said about 80 hourly workers from Lansing Delta Township have accepted transfers to Bowling Green, which is hiring more workers to build the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. Some have already left and others are transferring this week and next, he said.

Four other employees from Lansing Delta Township who came from Spring Hill transferred to GM’s Bedford powertrain plant in southern Indiana. That gets people within weekend driving distance of home, Martinez said.

But Martinez estimates that about 200 workers at Lansing Delta Township “would go back in a heartbeat” to Spring Hill.

The transfers have opened up jobs in GM plants across the country, including at Lansing Delta Township, which recently hired about 45 new-to-GM workers.

Martinez, who previously worked at Spring Hill, said he remains “optimistic, but realistic” about satisfying all workers who want to return to Spring Hill. Martinez said the UAW has said there would be an announcement regarding Spring Hill during the first quarter this year.

mburden@detroitnews.com

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