Workers vote 457-96 to reject pay cuts sought by company wanting to buy Indianapolis GM plant

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Union rejects concessions at GM Indianapolis plant

INDIANAPOLIS — The potential buyer for a General Motors stamping plant in Indianapolis has dropped its bid after workers overwhelmingly rejected pay cuts it sought.

The 457-96 vote against the concessions also was a repudiation of a deal national United Auto Workers officials had backed in hopes of keeping the factory open after GM announced last year it planned to shut it down in 2011.

But local union leaders opposed the offer from Addison, Ill.-based JD Norman Industries, which would have cut base pay at the plant from $29 an hour to $15.50.

“The contract they offered us wasn’t a contract,” UAW Local 23 bargaining chairman Gregory Clark told The Indianapolis Star after the vote was announced Monday. “It just gutted everything we had come to know as a contract between employers and employees.”

GM has been planning to close or sell the 2 million-square-foot plant west of downtown Indianapolis for three years. The plant now has about 640 hourly workers and state officials had offered Norman Industries $2 million in tax incentives if that grew to a promised 1,900 jobs.

Norman Industries planned for the factory to make hoods, fenders and other metal pieces for GM and other automakers.

“We are satisfied that the members of UAW Local 23 were allowed the opportunity to vote on JD Norman’s contract proposal,” company CEO Justin D. Norman said in a statement. “Clearly, we are disappointed in the final outcome. While we are withdrawing from pursuing the plant any further, we continue to hold the employees at the facility in the highest regard and wish them the best in their respective futures.”

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and other state officials had encouraged the workers to agree to the deal with Norman Industries.

“We’re exasperated by this,” state Commerce Secretary Mitch Roob told WTHR-TV. “The taxpayers of this country bailed out General Motors and their workers. Now, those workers here turned their backs on future generations of people who might have had their jobs in Indiana.”

The plant is owned by Motors Liquidation Co., which GM set up during its 2009 bankruptcy to take over discarded property.

Rejection of the contract doesn’t necessarily mean UAW members will be out of a job. Many of them already are eligible for retirement and others have the right to transfer to other factories if GM closes the plant.

Local union members recognized that any additional work for the Indianapolis plant would come at the expense of other GM factories, Gregg Shotwell, a GM retiree from Grand Rapids, Mich., and co-founder of UAW dissident group Soldiers of Solidarity, told the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Shotwell was among those who attended a weekend rally in Indianapolis against the concessions deal.

Maurice Davison, the UAW’s regional executive director, told the Star he was disappointed by the vote and he didn’t expect much cooperation from GM in expanding the plant’s workers’ transfer rights.

“If that were to happen, it would take GM to sit down and agree to it, and I can’t see GM sitting down to agree to anything with Indianapolis,” he said.

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