Running on empty: Workers face future with few benefits

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Stacy Vogel
Monday, December 22, 2008
— It's going to be a bleak Christmas for Tom Purnell and his 10-year-old son.

The 48-year-old single father was laid off from Lear Corp. in June after nearly 14 years when General Motors ended its second shift in Janesville.

"I can't find a job," Purnell said. "Places now aren't even taking applications anymore."

This week he'll be joined by about 2,000 newly unemployed workers as GM, Lear Corp., LSI and other auto suppliers that shut down or cut back operations in Janesville. GM is ending SUV production Tuesday, but about 50 workers will stay on to build Isuzu trucks through May.

While the GM workers will get at least 48 weeks of nearly full pay—and two years more if the company continues its controversial JOBS bank program—Purnell and other auto supply workers aren't so fortunate.

"They're closing the plant, and I'm going to get nothing," Purnell said.

Much of the attention in recent months has gone to GM workers and their union-negotiated layoff benefits, but Purnell believes that same union, United Auto Workers, let down Lear and LSI employees.

"They could've done better to help us out in the end," he said. "I paid my $40-something (a month), and I didn't get anything out of it."

Lear ended regular production in Janesville on Thursday, with a small staff staying through Tuesday and about 20 workers staying through February or March to break down operations. It notified the state it intends to lay off 371.

LSI and its sister company, Flint Special Services, notified the state they intend to close their Janesville operations when the GM plan ends SUV production, laying off 187.

A spokeswoman at Lear's corporate office declined to comment on what, if any, severance Lear employees will receive. UAW Local 95 officials also declined to comment or did not return calls for comment about severance for laid-off auto supply workers.

But it's clear Lear and LSI will receive neither the supplemental unemployment benefits that will boost GM workers' unemployment benefits to nearly full pay for 48 weeks, nor their extended health care coverage.

Auto supply workers will be eligible for the standard 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits, maxing out at $355 a week.

Laid-off workers also can take advantage of millions of dollars the government has made available to the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board for educational and support services.

Purnell is thinking about using that support to go back to school. He lost his health insurance in October, and he worries about paying his bills and keeping his home.

He's a little nervous about returning to school after 30 years, he said.

"Maybe I can get into something like the mechanic field," he said.


When General Motors announced it would end SUV production in Janesville, laying off 1,253 workers, local auto suppliers quickly followed suit. Here's a roundup of layoff notices auto suppliers have sent to the state:

-- Lear Corp., Janesville—Closing, laying off 371

-- LSI, Janesville—Closing, laying off 159

-- Flint Special Services (sister company to LSI), Janesville—Closing, laying off 28

-- Allied Automotive Group, Janesville—Laying off 117

-- Woodbridge Group, Brodhead—Laying off 70 workers

-- Total layoffs: 745

*Alcoa Wheel Plant, Beloit, also announced plans to close in June, laying off 240, but the closure is not directly tied to the General Motors plant ending production.

Last updated: 11:05 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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