Some GM workers surprised; others saw it coming

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008
— The sun burst through the clouds over Janesville for a few minutes Monday afternoon.

It didn’t do much to lighten the mood for the second-shift workers heading in to Janesville’s GM truck plant.

Some knew about General Motors’ announcement Monday morning that sport utility vehicle production was being cut to eliminate one shift of workers at the plant.

Others were just finding out about the 750-job cut that could create a loss of 1,250 jobs in Janesville.

“I just picked up The Gazette, and I haven’t had a chance to even read it or anything yet,” said team coordinator Dean Birkholz. “It is a surprise. We’ve thought about it, but I didn’t realize it would happen so soon.”

Starting July 14, GM will make SUVs on one shift. At that time, the line speed also will change. Currently, there are two shifts doing 44 vehicles per hour. In July, the one shift will be cranking out 58 jobs per hour.

Coming in for her first shift after a one-week layoff, Sue Ferkovich of Milton was less surprised. She’s been hearing layoff rumors all week.

“What do you do?” Ferkovich said. “It’s in the news everywhere else. I figured it was just a matter of time before it affected us.”

With only 11 years under her belt working on the line, Ferkovich is nervous about her job. Even though the second shift is being eliminated, cuts will be made to workers based on seniority, not shift, according to GM officials.

Jeff Pomplun of Janesville said potential layoffs have been a constant point of conversation on the line. He’s worked at Janesville’s GM plant for 22 years, and he, too, is worried about his job.

The layoffs might encourage more workers to take the buyout or early retirement packages GM has on the table, Pomplun said. Employees have until May 22 to make that decision.

A similar buyout program in 2006 resulted in more than 900 Janesville workers leaving the plant.

“I think some people will consider it more now,” Pomplun said. “Especially the younger ones that only have a few years in. They might say, ‘Well, let’s hit the dusty trail.’ For me, it’s kind of hard; I’ve got 22 years in. I’ll ride the storm out, I guess.”

Team coordinator Phil Dopkins of Janesville said the layoff is another step in a negative outlook at the plant for a year or so.

“They’ve been slowing the line down and eliminating jobs,” Dopkins said. “We lost our medium duty line; we lost our product.”

Dan Butts of Janesville wasn’t surprised about Monday’s announcement, either.

“You know, with the price of gasoline and things like that … something was going to happen,” Butts said. “We just can’t keep running like we were running.”

Read more in our special section on the GM cutbacks.

Last updated: 8:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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