UAW and Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: GM dispute deserves vote

August 21, 2010

At IBJ deadline, there didn’t appear to be any movement on the stalemate that threatens to close General Motors Corp.’s Indianapolis stamping plant for good. It will be a shame if the transportation-related manufacturing that has taken place at the site that hugs the White River just south of West Washington Street since horse and buggy days comes to an end.

We don’t expect the parties involved to care about history, but it’s puzzling to us that leaders of the United Auto Workers Local 23 are against members even casting a vote on the proposed takeover of the plant by Illinois-based J.D. Norman Industries.

If the facts favor the Local’s argument against Norman, leadership shouldn’t fear putting the proposal to a vote.

Indeed, there’s plenty not to like if you’re working at the plant and making a union wage. Hourly base wages would fall from $29 to $15.50. No one likes a big pay cut. Many workers would rather see the plant close and maintain their current pay by transferring to a GM plant in another city.

Norman says workers could retain their jobs while pursuing a transfer, but workers say there won’t be as much need for their services elsewhere within GM if the plant stays open under Norman as a supplier to the auto giant.

Norman, for its part, seems to be bending over backward to make this work. It’s offering lump-sum payments to workers to help bridge the gap between their old and new salaries.

The company also points out that the one-third of plant workers who are eligible for retirement can retire with their full GM pension and benefits and continue working at the plant under the wage scale Norman is offering. They’re also offering the plant’s 90 temporary employees full-time employment with benefits.

But there’s more to the story than the futures of the more than 650 workers at the plant.

GM, legions of unemployed Hoosiers and the city of Indianapolis also have a stake in the outcome.

GM, which announced in 2007 it would close the plant next year, is duty bound to become a leaner, more efficient car manufacturer. It emerged from bankruptcy protection last year thanks to a $50 billion government bailout. The company can’t conduct business as usual. It has to do more with less in order to keep its recovery on track and take back ownership from the American taxpayer.

Workers at the plant seem oblivious to the company’s plight—and to the suffering of all those who are unemployed who would love to collect the salary and benefits.

An empty plant is no help to those people, and the lost tax revenue and idle real estate is the last thing the cash-strapped city of Indianapolis needs right now.

The most vocal critics of the Norman deal owe it to their co-workers, the city’s unemployed and the city itself—a city many of them have lived in their entire lives—to see that Norman’s proposal comes up for a vote.

If the deal is as bad as they say, the vote will seal the plant’s fate. But at least those who work there will have had their say.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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