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Published: Friday, 3/24/2006

GM employees weigh buyouts, early retirement

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

After 34 years as a General Motors Corp. employee, Mary Hernandez is more than ready to be a housewife at the age of 52 and will gladly accept a recently announced buyout offer.

Forty-eight-year-old Kirk Kraft, on the other hand, said he recently got divorced and can't afford to take any offer.

It was a mixed bag yesterday among Toledo workers considering the news that GM will offer buyouts of $70,000 to $140,000 and early retirement packages of $35,000 to its U.S. factory employees.

It is part of the struggling automaker's move to cut costs and trim its work force by 30,000 by 2008.

The program, announced Wednesday by GM and its Delphi Corp. spinoff and endorsed by the United Auto Workers, is one of the largest corporate buyouts in U.S. history. About 126,000 workers are eligible.

"I'm ready to go and enjoy my life," said Ms. Hernandez, who works at the Toledo Powertrain factory and has worked at other GM plants in Michigan.

Under the program, she apparently can receive $35,000 plus pension and other benefits.

John Ellison, 62, who has 39 years of GM experience and now is at the Toledo factory, said, "I'll probably take it. I was intending to go anyway."

But Mr. Kraft, of Temperance and a Toledo Powertrain worker, said, "I cannot afford to quit."

The Toledo transmission factory, with 3,500 workers, is one of two GM plants in northwest Ohio. The other is a powertrain plant in Defiance, with 2,100 workers. But union leaders there referred questions to the local unit's president, who was on vacation.

Also part of the program are 350 workers at a Delphi plant in Adrian and 1,100 at a Delphi plant in Sandusky. A UAW leader in Adrian wasn't sure how workers would react, and no union leaders could be reached in Sandusky.

Under the program, workers accepting a normal or early retirement, with 27 or more years of service, will receive $35,000 plus benefits and pension.

Such retirements could begin June 1.

The buyouts provide $70,000 for workers with fewer than 10 years of service or $140,000 for those with more years, but each gives up retirement benefits except whatever pension has been earned.

Talk of what the arrangement would be has swirled in the plants for weeks, so local GM workers were pleased that details are out. Briefings of workers are expected to start next week, after local union leaders nationally are briefed Tuesday in Detroit.

Despite his 29 years at GM plants in several states, Terry Nutt of Milan, Mich., is not grabbing the offer.

"I'm too young," said the 48-year-old, who had been "all over" working at GM plants before landing at Toledo's Powertrain plant four years ago.

Still, he acknowledged there is uncertainty about the future of GM. The automaker lost $10.6 billion last year, and GM's troubles helped push Delphi, its biggest supplier, into bankruptcy last fall. More job cuts and the outcome of union contract negotiations next year are unknown.

"I think a lot of people are going to be jumping ship," Mr. Nutt said.

Strongly considering the offer is 55-year-old Rich Silvestri, a machine repairman with 31 years who is considering other jobs.

"I was expecting more, but those that are getting more are losing their health benefits," he said.

One issue for the Toledo factory will be the large number of workers with at least 27 years of experience. Oscar Bunch, president of UAW Local 14 at the plant, said 1,900 workers have at least 27 years in and 800 have more than 30 years.

It's unclear how many workers at the Alexis Road plant will be able to take the buyouts and retirements, because too many departures could pose problems, Mr. Bunch said.

That confusion is playing on workers' minds, said Jim Smith, a master mechanic. He has worked at GM for 20 years and expects only higher seniority colleagues will be able to decide on the offers. He isn't sure he would take the deal even if he could.

"I have to wait for Medicare," said Mr. Smith, who turns 65 next year.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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