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SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2007

Sources: Delphi may close
Employees to learn fate at meeting Monday with union officials

By Eric Fleischauer · 340-2435

Delphi’s 1,100-employee Limestone County plant may close.

A Detroit-based delegation of the United Auto Workers union will meet with local Delphi employees at the Limestone County plant early Monday, according to United Auto Workers Local 2195 President Vaughn Goodwin and others.

“We’ll be holding meetings all day Monday to let people know the fate of the plant and the fate of their jobs,” Goodwin, mayor of Trinity, said. “I can’t say more than that.”

Closing in 2009?

Other union representatives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the union officials are expected to tell employees that the Limestone County Delphi plant will close in 2009.

Friday, Delphi announced it had reached a memorandum of understanding with UAW that would cut wages from about $27 an hour to a maximum of $18.50 an hour by Oct. 1.

The local plant, which employed more than 2,000 before Delphi declared bankruptcy Oct. 8, 2005, has lost more than half its workers to buyouts designed to cut Delphi labor costs.

Since the buyouts took effect, Delphi has hired additional workers, at lower wages, under a two-tiered plan negotiated with UAW. Longtime workers who did not participate in the buyout continue to receive wages approaching $30 per hour, but post-bankruptcy employees receive about half that amount.

In a bankruptcy filing last year, Delphi said it would close the Limestone County plant in January 2008 if it had no buyers. It left open the possibility of government incentives changing that plan.

Details on the memorandum of understanding reached Friday, which is subject to a vote by union members as early as this week, remain sketchy. The tentative agreement includes a pay-out of $105,000 over three years for about 4,000 of Delphi’s 17,000 UAW workers. Workers accepting the offer would have their pay reduced.

The deal would remove the threat of a strike that would cripple GM — Delphi’s largest customer, former parent company and a contributor to the buyout offer — and disrupt contract talks this summer between the UAW and Detroit automakers.

“They’ll call everyone into the conference room Monday and explain it,” said one Delphi worker.

Reports on the memorandum of understanding between UAW and Delphi were limited to wage cuts and buyout offers. Asked if the tentative agreement also contemplated plant closings, Goodwin said, “I can’t comment specifically, but you’re on the right track.”

Athens Mayor Dan Williams, who said he’s heard rumors the plant would close in 2009, said it’s a huge negative for the area, but has its silver linings.

“Delphi’s closing would be a sad day for the area, no question,” Williams said.

That said, Williams and others have been trying to attract a buyer for one of Delphi’s three buildings, now owned by the state, for years.

Williams said it would be easier to market the entire plant than one building.

Alabama gave incentives to Delphi in 2002 that included the purchase of still-vacant Plant 22 and 121 acres for a price as high as $15 million, $2.2 million over the appraised value of the 700,000-square-foot plant. Saturday, Plant 22 was engulfed with untrimmed shrubbery. Foot-high weeds issued from cracks in the parking lot.

Moreover, Williams said, Delphi’s unionization is a negative for potential buyers. If it shuts down — eliminating UAW’s presence — it would be easier to sell.

“Everything’s booming in North Alabama,” Williams said. “Hopefully (Delphi employees) will have a place to go.”

He said several companies who would employ even more than Delphi are looking at Limestone County properties for expansion.

“We’ve talked to some companies that would be comparable or bigger,” Williams said. “There’s been some serious talk.”

But, Williams said, talk rarely produces jobs.

“We’re very concerned about Delphi,” Williams said. “I can’t stand to think about them closing.”

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