Workers feel betrayed by plans to close Del. plant

BITTER REACTION GM

December 05, 1992|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

ELSMERE, Del. -- Joe Carrere couldn't believe it.

Soon after he reported to work at GM's factory outside Wilmington Thursday afternoon, he and other second-shift workers were shown a videotaped announcement that the plant would close after the 1996 model year.

"The plant manager had gone home. He didn't even have enough concern to stay around and talk to us," said Mr. Carrere, 33, who is expecting his fifth child next month.

Yesterday, Mr. Carrere was still "very bitter." He stumbled on his words. "It's hard to talk about, but I have to deal with it sooner or later."

He bought a new home several years ago -- just outside of Elkton, in Cecil County. He even bought a Chevrolet van recently to "help the cause."

News of the plant's closing -- one of nine parts or assembly facilities that the troubled automaker said were slated to close within a few years -- has begun to ripple beyond Delaware and into neighboring Maryland communities, many of which supply some of the plant's 3,500-person work force or benefit from the workers' incomes.

Many of the workers said yesterday that they feel betrayed, after being told by General Motors for years they were producing a quality product in an efficient manner.

But company officials and others say the plant's age -- 45 years old -- and its distance from parts suppliers were disadvantages. Also, sales of the plant's Corsicas and Berettas were down 30 percent this year, and most of the cars were sold at a lower profit to rental companies and fleet operators.

Delaware provides a large number of manufacturing jobs for Cecil residents -- at Du Pont, a Chrysler plant, the University of Delaware and elsewhere. More than half of Cecil's labor force travels outside the county to work.

At the GM plant, 381 Maryland residents, most of them living in Cecil, drive across the state line to work there, according to officials at the United Auto Workers Local 435, which represents nearly all of the plant's workers.

Before dawn yesterday, the reality of the impending shutdown was sinking in at doughnut shops, diners, convenience stores and other businesses in Maryland and Delaware that cater to the GM workers.

"It's not just 400 people," Susan Doordan, executive director of the Cecil County Chamber of Commerce, said of the Maryland residents to lose their jobs. "It's 400 families."

"Most of them, they've been there 20 years and that's all they know," said Mark Guilday, part-owner of Glascow Deli Style Restaurant on U.S. 40 north of Elkton, referring to the GM workers. He caters to many of those workers.

"We have enough other business that it's not going to hurt us too bad," he said, "but it's going to hurt us some."

Mr. Guilday's 37-year-old brother, Tom, works on the GM assembly line.

Like so many other workers, Tom Guilday has heard the rumors of a closing for years, his brother said.

But, said Kenneth Aro, 51, of Elkton, a GM electrician: "You never think it's going to happen to you. . . .You read about the homeless. You read about the starving children. But you never think it's going to hit the back door."

Many union jobs at GM pay $15 to $20 an hour, with good benefits.

Jobs like that just are not available too many places, Mr. Aro and others said.

If laid-off GM workers do find a job, said Elkton resident Dave Francioni, "Their wages are going to be about half what they are now."

Mr. Francioni, 50, is a trash hauler whose company serves the GM plant.

Roger J. Venezia, director of Cecil's Office of Economic Development, said county officials already are starting to think of ways to help the GM workers, such as by seeking state money for retraining.

"I think we're in a good position," Mr. Venezia said. "We'll have our day in the future."

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