Janesville74.2°

GM workers mostly silent on shut down

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 14, 2008
— People didn't have a lot to say.

Not surprising, considering their jobs soon will disappear, their futures are uncertain and many still have families to support and mortgages to pay.


On Monday, General Motors made it official: The local plant will stop production of its current line on Dec. 23, leaving 1,253 people without jobs.


At 3:48 p.m., under a overcast sky, first-shift workers left the plant in ones and twos, heading for parking lots filled with pickup trucks and plenty of other, American-made, full-sized cars.


Most workers didn't want to talk about it, simply shaking their heads.


Others reluctantly spoke about their years at the plant and the future.


"Well, we kind of knew it was coming, but it was sort of a shock," said Brett Cokings, an assembly worker with 22 years experience. "We were hoping to go until March or April."


Cokings is married and has a disabled child at home and another that's grown and out of the house.


He's hoping for a transfer.


"With eight years to go, it's too much to give up; we're just hoping for someplace to go," Cokings said.


He'd like a job in another plant, but knows the competition with be tough.


"I heard they hired 400 in Ohio at the new hire rate," Cokings said. "Those are jobs we can't displace."


Like other workers, he'll get severance pay and 24 months of health insurance.


Kurt Ackerman is hoping to transfer, too.


"I have enough years in that I kind of have to move—I should," said Ackerman, who as worked at the plant for 22 years.


Out of all the workers who agreed to speak, 31-year veteran Bill Tinder sounded the most upbeat—even while acknowledging that the loss of jobs will be "hard on younger folks."


"It's been an honor and a privilege to work here," Tinder said.


Some workers tried to start in another career, preparing for the eventual shutdown of the current line.


Matt Wopat, who has worked at the plant for 13 years, went back to school in the fall after being laid off. However, he was called back to work in the middle of the semester.


He plans to start again in January with "maybe a computer class and a math refresher."


But Wopat hasn't given up hope—either for his own future or the plant's.


"I've been hearing a lot of positive rumors about another product," Wopat said in a phone interview.


Chris Cass hopes for that, too.


"That would be nice," Cass said in a phone interview. "But with the economy and General Motors, you never know."



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