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Impact on Janesville unknown

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 18, 2008
— No one knows for sure what General Motors’ new retirement incentives will mean for Janesville’s GM plant, but the offers probably will be a lot like what happened in 2005-06, a GM spokesman said.

GM and the United Auto Workers still are negotiating details of the plan and probably will announce them next month, GM spokesman Dan Flores said this morning.


How many local workers will take the incentives is anybody’s guess. A reported 916 local workers—a quarter of the work force—took the incentives in 2005-06.


“I think there’s people that were on the borderline, would have liked to take it a couple years ago and didn’t, who will take it this time, said Mike Sheridan, UAW Local 95 president.


“There also will be some people who enjoy going to work every day—they’ve got 30 years in, but they’re going to stay on,” Sheridan said.


Sheridan said he and other local union officials know next to nothing about the new retirement/buyout plan, but Flores said it would be much like the four-tiered plan of 2005:


-- Workers with 30 or more years retired and received a $35,000 payment.


-- Workers age 50 with at least 10 years of service were allowed to retire early.


-- Workers with 27-29 years could take a pre-retirement furlough with pension-like payments until they reached the 30-year mark, when they could officially retire.


-- All other workers could choose a buyout of $140,000 but cut all ties to the company. They got no retirement benefits except for the part of the pension plan that they already had vested, Flores said.


Flores stressed that details of the new plan won’t be known until next month at the earliest.


“The deal isn’t done yet. There’s nothing being rolled out yet,” he said.


Today’s news coverage was sparked by a meeting of GM and UAW executives and Wall Street analysts at the Detroit Auto Show, Flores said.


What it all means for the future of the Janesville plant is uncertain. Sheridan said he’s concerned about gas prices and a possible recession, and he knows a lot of people beyond the plant gates depend on GM as a part of the local economy, as it has been for decades.


Flores said that even though the new contract with the UAW contained assurances that Janesville’s plant and others would remain open, market forces will drive the ultimate decisions.


Sheridan agreed that the plant’s future depends on vehicle sales.


“I can’t stress enough that we’re going to continue to be on the cutting edge and will do the best we can to make sure we optimize our chances for the future,” Sheridan said.


“The entire membership knows that we have to continue to evolve and continue to try to be the best of the best,” he added.


By the way, Sheridan said he’s going to be one of those people retiring this spring, probably in June.


Elections for Local 95’s leadership are in May.



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