Janesville57.2°

Most workers not happy about elimination of JOBS Bank

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Stacy Vogel
December 5, 2008
— Jeff Haines has been laid off from the Janesville General Motors plant for six months, and he hasn’t decided yet if he’s willing to transfer to another plant to stay with the company.

Still, even though it might hurt him financially, he thinks it’s necessary for GM to eliminate a controversial job-protection benefit.


“Whatever it takes,” the nine-year employee said. “GM’s on the verge of, you know, bankruptcy, and we certainly don’t want that to happen.”


Opinions were mixed among Janesville plant workers about a possible elimination of the Job Opportunity Bank-Security, or JOBS Bank, program. Most workers leaving the plant Thursday said they were upset by the proposal, though a few said they’re willing to forgo the benefit if it will help the company.


Under the union contract, laid-off autoworkers receive unemployment benefits at near full pay for 48 weeks—26 weeks as a combination of state unemployment compensation and supplemental unemployment benefits and another 22 weeks of just supplement unemployment benefits.


After the 48 weeks are up, workers move into the JOBS Bank and receive up to 95 percent of their pay for two years. In return, workers must accept job transfers to other GM facilities or be cut from the company’s wage and benefits programs.


The debate over the JOBS Bank is especially poignant in Janesville, where thousands of workers will join workers who were already laid off earlier this year when the plant ends production Dec. 23.


Some have decried the JOBS Bank program as paying laid-off workers to do nothing, but Bob Veum, a 22-year GM employee, said workers have earned the benefit through their union.


“We put that money in for this reason,” he said.


Other workers leaving the plant Thursday put it bluntly when asked what they thought of losing the JOBS Bank.


“Terrible!” one shouted.


“It’s bad.”


“I think we’re getting screwed.”


“Obviously nobody’s going to be too happy about this,” said employee Bill Tinder. “We’re going to lose money.”


But Bret Cokinis, a 22-year employee, said he thinks the union has to make concessions.


“I don’t think anybody’s real happy about it, but there’s nothing we can say about it,” he said. “If we don’t do something, we’re going to lose everything.”


Some workers emphasized that nothing’s finalized yet. UAW leaders voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to make concessions to the Big Three automakers, including eliminating the JOBS Bank, but UAW President Ron Gettelfinger did not announce a timetable or specifics for ending the program.


Haines, the laid-off worker, said he will wait and see what happens before deciding if he will try for a transfer.


“I have other options to fall back on,” he said. “I’m not too worried.”



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