More than a plant, it's the people

Closing GM will `hurt, hurt, hurt'

First Person

December 03, 2003|By Jonathan Pitts

Ed Oliver, 58, was glad to see the state's top politicos fly to Michigan Monday, where they lobbied General Motors executives to keep their Baltimore plant open. Because of declining sales of its main product, the Chevrolet Astro van, GM may close the Broening Highway facility, a move that would cost 1,100 jobs. Oliver started on the assembly line after returning from Vietnam, survived more labor strife than he cares to remember and, now, 37 years later, leads weekly discussions on safety and quality. If the company wants to choose wisely, he said yesterday, it need look no further than his co-workers.

"Before '83 or so, it was just about numbers, about how many cars you built. That has changed so much I can hardly believe it. I never thought I'd see quality this high; it's not just a slogan. Every week we look at mistakes to make sure they never happen again.

"There used to be strikes all the time, but now the union and management work together, almost like a husband and wife; you fight, but you're out for the same goals.

"And did you know we have the oldest employees in the corporation? The average age is 52. Most people have been here a long, long time. We've all grown up together. It's like a family. [The job] isn't just a paycheck anymore.

"GM can build a plant anywhere in the world, and it's no secret; this is an old place. But a plant is more than a building. It's the people. Those people are assets. If GM looked at what we've done here, I know they'd bring this plant a new product and keep it open.

"After all these years of struggle, if they closed the place, man, it would hurt, hurt, hurt. It'd break my heart. This has been a great place to work. I've put six kids through school; I can retire and be OK. But if they brought another product here, I'd feel like I was leaving this place better than when I got here. I'd retire happy."

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