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Delphi employees Danny Hardiman, left, and Rick Ooten, in front of the UAW Local 2195 union hall, said the proposed agreement to close the Limestone County plants shocked them. Both said they probably would maintain residences in Limestone County and commute to GMs Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Delphi employees Danny Hardiman, left, and Rick Ooten, in front of the UAW Local 2195 union hall, said the proposed agreement to close the Limestone County plants shocked them. Both said they probably would maintain residences in Limestone County and commute to GMs Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.

3/09 Delphi shutdown
Layoffs could begin immediately under proposed UAW-company deal

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

United Auto Workers members will vote Thursday on whether to approve an agreement with Delphi Corp. that would close the two Limestone County plants by March 2009, with layoffs to begin immediately.

The plants employ 1,175.

Many union members said they feel they have no choice but to vote in favor of the contract, which provides them with some benefits.

UAW Local 2195 President Vaughn Goodwin said the news blindsided workers.

"We had all accepted that our wages would be cut," Goodwin said. "We never dreamed they'd shut us down."

He said UAW International "did a good job at negotiating, given what they had to work with. We need to remember that we could have come out of this with nothing."

Up to 300 long-term Limestone County employees would be eligible to flow back to General Motors' Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. The flowback opportunity will begin March 1, 2009, at the latest, or earlier if layoffs begin in Limestone County before then.

Delphi spun off from GM on Dec. 31, 1998.

Employees with 10 or more years of service may opt to resign, by Sept. 15, in return for a buyout payment of $140,000. Those with less than 10 years of seniority would be eligible for a $70,000 buyout. Most employees accepted an identical buyout offer extended in March 2006.

The agreement offers a $35,000 payment to encourage workers with at least 30 years of service to retire, and retirement benefits for workers age 50 and above with at least 10 years of service.

The local plants employed more than 2,000 — at wages of about $27 per hour — before Delphi declared bankruptcy Oct. 8, 2005. Of those remaining, 775 were hired under a post-bankruptcy, two-tier wage plan at about half the rate of longer term employees.

The proposed agreement provides severance pay of $1,500 per month of seniority for workers hired last year under the two-tier agreement.

Only four U.S. plants would remain
in operation under the tentative agreement between bankrupt auto supplier Delphi and UAW, according to a copy of the tentative agreement obtained by The Daily. The surviving plants are in Kokomo, Ind.; Lockport, N.Y.; Rochester, N.Y,. and Grand Rapids, Mich.

Plants 21 and 23, in Limestone County would be "wound down or consolidated."

Plants in Cottondale; Saginaw, Mich.; Sandusky, Ohio; and Adrian, Mich. would remain active for between one and three years as Delphi tries to sell them as ongoing businesses. If sales do not materialize, Delphi would close them.

"It seems like the American worker gets the shaft every time," said Limestone County Commissioner David Seibert. "It's not the union, it's not local management. It's corporate management at Delphi. They haven't played fair."

The state invested $11 million in Delphi in 2002 to keep jobs here. The investments included the purchase of high-tech equipment at Plant 23 for production of half-shafts.

"We're scared," said an employee — who declined to identify herself because she has a relative at the plant — hired two weeks ago. "They told us the plant was going to be sold, not closed. We thought we would be able to keep our jobs."

Rick Oooten of Athens, a skilled-trades representative with 15 years at GM/Delphi, was angry as he left the union meeting.

"There's nothing fair about this," Ooten said. "It's all about corporate greed."

Danny Hardiman of Tanner said management had told them the local plant had a buyer, Platinum Equity. He said he's convinced Delphi used the prospect of a buyer to keep workers from leaving or reducing production levels.

"They lied to us the whole time," Hardiman said.

Limestone County receives about $35,000 a month in sales tax from Delphi. That doesn't include sales tax and property tax that come from the employees.

"It's not a game-breaker," said Seibert, "but it hurts."

Seibert said county and state officials have been trying to sell Plant 22, which the state bought as part of the incentive plan for Delphi, but have had no luck.

Ooten said UAW did a good job carving out protections for Delphi employees.

"If it wasn't for UAW, Delphi would have closed this site now and put us on the street," Oooten said.

Bill Hanline, 58, a 23-year employee of GM/Delphi working at Plant 21, disagreed.

"I'm angry at the corporation, but I'm twice as angry at the union that was supposed to protect us," Hanline said. "UAW brought 'cooperative labor negotiations' to a whole new level. They're now facilitating corporate America in closing these plants."

Goodwin said the first indication he had that Delphi was considering plant closure was last month, when it began moving equipment from Plant 21 to Saginaw.

"We fought the move," Goodwin said, "but we were told it was not a sign of things to come."

Goodwin, who has been with GM/Delphi for 22 years, became president of Local 2195 on June 16.

Delphi, which bankrupted its U.S. holdings, is investing in its foreign operation. One of its 15 operations in China is a new plant in Wuhu, announced in December. It will manufacture half-shafts beginning next year.

"Much of our production over there is for consumers over there," said Delphi spokesman Lindsey Williams. He said he had no information on what percentage of the parts manufactured in China would be shipped to U.S. automakers.

"That's the game the corporation's been playing," Hanline said.

"Delphi's not getting out of the business of making parts for the auto industry, it's just getting out of making those parts in this country."

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