200 jobs offered to GM's idled

Balto. workers to go to Del., White Marsh


Almost 200 displaced workers from Baltimore's now-shuttered General Motors factory were offered jobs this week at the automaker's plants in Wilmington, Del., and White Marsh - a move that will considerably shrink the company job bank set up two years ago to pay laid-off personnel.

A company spokesman said yesterday that 170 workers would be transferred to the Wilmington assembly line where three models are made. Another 21 workers with the most seniority would move to GM's Allison Transmission plant in Baltimore County.

"We're pleased about it because we're taking people in the job bank, and they're going to be placed in the active work force," said Dan Flores, a GM manufacturing and labor spokesman.

Flores said the job transfers would "significantly reduce" the size of Baltimore's job bank, but he would not disclose specifics. Skilled trade workers will remain in the Baltimore job bank, Flores said.

When GM closed its 70-year-old Baltimore van assembly plant in May 2005, many of the 1,100 Baltimore laid-off workers retired or found jobs elsewhere in GM. As many as 450 workers became part of GM's job bank, where they go to school, volunteer full time or sit there while collecting paychecks and benefits under a provision of their labor contracts, which expire next year.

The job bank, however, is a costly program, and labor experts say the struggling automaker could move to eliminate it. Workers often receive about 95 percent of their wages.

Baltimore-area workers who reject this week's job offer will be placed on "layoff" status, meaning they will be removed from the job bank but still retain health benefits and receive unemployment, Flores said. An idled worker in the job bank can reject an offer only once, Flores said.

Workers transferring to the Wilmington plant, which makes the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, were told Monday about the job relocation, several employees said yesterday. They also received a letter from GM's national employment placement center, informing them of the job offer and listing a start date, employees said. The first group of workers will begin Aug. 21.

Under the contact between GM and the United Auto Workers, the automaker can make a "local-area hire" or move idled workers to a plant with job openings within 50 to 60 miles, Flores said. The company and union officials agreed that Baltimore and Wilmington would fall under that provision, Flores said.

Openings became available at the Delaware plant because of vacancies left by workers who recently accepted GM's buyouts or early retirement packages, Flores said. The company offered buyouts to address its financial troubles.

GM said last month that nearly a third of its 113,000 hourly workers accepted a buyout or took early retirement in return for severance packages of as much as $140,000.

In the Baltimore area, 152 of about 820 eligible workers signed up for the buyout - 115 from the closed GM van assembly plant on Broening Highway and 37 from the Allison Transmission plant in White Marsh, according to UAW Local 239.

Local president Fred Swanner could not be reached for comment yesterday. "We have job openings in Wilmington, and it makes sense for us to fill it with current employees actively not working," Flores said.

GM expects brisk production of its Solstice and Sky models at the Wilmington plant. A third shift was added in January because of heavy demand for the Solstice and anticipated increase in orders for the Sky, Flores said.

Workers there also make the Opel Roadster, a car model exported to Europe.

Despite an opportunity to work at another GM factory, Rick Siegert, who worked at the Broening Highway factory since September 1997 and is now a full-time volunteer, said he's not sure whether he'll take the job.

Among his concerns are the more than hour-long commute, rising gas prices and tolls.

"The main reason for working for General Motors is to have good benefits and a good rate of pay," he said. "If you're driving 15 hours a week with tolls, mileage and gas, and you take it off the wage and divide by 40, I'm sure I could find a job that's local."

In the meantime, he said his co-workers are trying to organize car pools and planning to make a test-run to their new job. "Most people I know are heading up there," he said. "They're not glad about it."


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