Despite rumors, plant closing comes as shock to workers

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Stacy Vogel
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
— When the Janesville GM plant lost its pickup truck line in the mid-1980s, workers started to worry they would lose their jobs.

John Resch, along with other GM veterans, was supposed to soothe the younger workers, but he was scared, too, he said.

“I had four kids,” he said. “I had 15, maybe 18 years (at the plant) if I had that. It really shakes you up, I’ll tell ya.”

Today, the nightmare workers feared in 1985 came true for 2,400 hourly and 200 salaried workers, sending a ripple of shock through current and retired plant employees.

Even though rumors have swirled for decades that the plant would close, the confirmation this morning is still a surprise, said Russ O’Leary, Milton.

“No matter what happens … it is still a shock,” he said.

O’Leary started work at the Janesville plant 28 years ago, and even then, he said, veterans told him he’d be laid off within the year.

He took the buyout plan last week. He wanted to move on and hoped his early retirement would help other workers keep their jobs, he said.

Now, it looks like that’s not going to happen.

“I had brothers that worked there, and I have cousins that work there, and I have many, many friends that work there, and this is going to affect the rest of their lives,” he said.

The closing will affect, not just the GM employees, but the entire community, Resch said. The loss of jobs will have a trickle-down effect on other businesses, especially those that directly supported the plant, such as LSI and Lear.

Resch has seen the effects of plant closings first-hand. As a UAW Local 95 committee member, he toured Flint, Mich., in the late 1980s.

“Block after block after block, businesses completely shut down,” he said, describing the city after plant closings devastated the local economy.

“All those people that complain about us (Janesville plant workers), you wait until this affects them,” he said. “Because it will.”

The plant closing also will affect the thousands of local retirees, who will no longer have local officials to turn to when they have questions about their benefits, he said.

Kathy Meek Martinez, Janesville, will feel the effects in two ways—as a retiree, and as the wife of a current GM worker.

Her husband, Ed Martinez, has 29 years in with GM.

“He’s going to hang in there until the end, he said,” Meek Martinez said.

At least the Janesville workers will have some time to figure out what they will do when the plant closes, she said. Her husband worked at another GM plant that closed with no notice.

“One day they were called in there, and they said, get your stuff, it’s done,” she said.

Last updated: 9:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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