Rolling Thunder

Let the factory shutdowns begin! Less than 90 days after the announcement that GM would be cutting employees and factories, the Oklahoma City factory was taken out of commission. An area known for it aggressive storms was the center of  a new storm that featured GM cutting many of its factories.

This storm was assertive right out of the gates. The OKC factory was one of GM’s oldest plants and it was just newly renovated! GM recently used 700 million dollars to build a new paint shop at the plant. The shut down came as a shock to everyone. One worker described the scenario, “I left on Thursday to go on vacation and my pastor called and said, ‘Hey, Bobby, I’m sorry about your job,’ I thought he was messing with me. You could have knocked me over with a feather.”

The workers weren’t the only ones who suffered. The surrounding community was greatly benefited by the factory and the thousands of workers who had jobs there. Without it in town, there was no one going to the restaurants, no one buying gas, or buying merchandise from retail stores. The factory was virtually the life of the town. It was so important to that city that Oklahoma’s governor Brad Henry offered 200 million dollars to keep the plant running but GM was not changing its mind.

The workers that were laid off entered the jobs bank. The jobs bank was setup as a holding place for workers who were waiting on a plant to finish up renovations or for people that were searching for another factory job within a 50-mile radius. In this case, there were no other factories within a 50-mile radius, and the OKC factory would not be starting back up for awhile. Workers were still paid however they were closely watched and had a restricted amount of freedom. For example, they were not allowed to sleep or to play cards. One member described the scenario, “I feel like I’m literally in a vegetative state. I have nothing to think about.” Wall Street heavily criticized the job banks saying, “They’re basically spending hundreds of millions of dollars and getting nothing for it.”

GM finally decided on a buyout for workers in the job banks. Surprisingly, more people took the offer than expected. “A buyout? I’ll take it.” The deal was as follows: if you had more than ten years experience, you could take 140,000 dollars and lose health benefits. If you had 30 or more years of experience, you could keep your health benefits and well as 35,000 dollars. A key player in the success of this process was Fritz Henderson. “Look, I’m 100 percent focused, and I’m not interested in getting off track,” said Henderson. Henderson was also the first GM representative to develop a healthy relationship with Gettelfinger.

Were the job banks really that miserable?

Source: Once Upon A Car by Bill Vlasic, Chapter 12

1 comment to Rolling Thunder

  • Joseph Kimbell

    The Jobs Bank seems indicative to me of the power the UAW holds over the auto industry. This power stems from the good times in the 1950s, 60s and 70s when the Detroit Three faced very little foreign competition and enjoyed prices that would only exist in an oligopoly. The car companies had little motivation to negotiate favorable contracts with the UAW because they were enjoying incredibly high profit margins. When those margins began to shrink, however, the UAW’s wages and benefits did not shrink with them. Ultimately this lack of dynamic employee relations proved highly detrimental when profit margins began to shrink.

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