Janesville9.4°

When 'closed' is good

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JAMES P. LEUTE
October 24, 2008
— While it sounds ominous, the designation of the General Motors assembly plant in Janesville as a "closed plant" will help workers who want to transfer to the automaker's other plants.

GM announced last week that it will end production Dec. 23 of full-size sport utility trucks in Janesville.


The end of production will result in the layoff of 1,253 GM workers, plus nearly 600 others at local suppliers.


That's on top of the 852 GM employees laid off earlier this year when the automaker cut production from one shift to two.


The local plant's designation as "closed" is retroactive to June 3, the day GM said it would trim production in Janesville.


'"Closed status' does two things for the workers in Janesville," said GM spokesman Chris Lee. "It provides money, and it provides prioritization."


For employees who are successful in landing a voluntary transfer to another GM plant, relocation expenses increase from $30,000 to $75,000.


Hourly employees who have transferred since June 3 or who will transfer are eligible for the additional money. It is paid as an $11,000 signing bonus, followed by a $42,000 payment about three weeks after the worker reports at his or her new plant. Two payments of $11,000 are then paid on the first and second anniversary of the employee's transfer date.


The ability to transfer to another plant is contingent on job openings at that plant, Lee said.


Plants typically hire transferring employees from two lists. One covers employees within 50 miles of the plant, while the other covers employees beyond 50 miles, which is considered an extended area.


The hires are made based on seniority.


"What the 'closed plant status' does is move Janesville employees to the top of that extended area hire list," Lee said. "It's used to move employees to available positions more expeditiously."


John Dohner Jr., United Auto Workers Local 95 shop chair at GM, said the "closed status" has no bearing on discussions taking place between a local coalition and GM officials on a new product for the Janesville plant.


"It's just a designation for the purposes of transfers and relocation," he said. "For those people looking to move or who already transferred, they'll get more money, so it's a good thing."


On a line separate from the SUV line, about 50 workers at the Janesville plant are scheduled to build medium-duty Isuzu trucks through May.


Also this week, GM told the state it will re-assign or sever ties with 92 salaried employees in Janesville in December.


In it's letter to the state, GM said the cessation of production will result in the reassignment of the salaried employees or, if no reassignment is available, severance benefits and state unemployment compensation if eligible.


Plant manager moving to Michigan

In addition to losing more than 1,300 hourly and salaried employees in December, the Janesville General Motors plant also will lose its manager.


Gary Malkus, who became plant manager in April 2002, has been named manager of GMís Lake Orion assembly plant in Michigan, which builds the Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Malibu.


GM spokesman Chris Lee said Malkus is spending time at both plants, but will continue to serve in Janesville through the December build-out of full-size sport utility vehicles.


Malkus, who joined GM in 1968, came to Janesville from Antwerp, Belgium, and GMís Opel NV facility, which he managed for four years. He replaced Gary Giles in Janesville.


Malkus earned a bachelorís degree in electrical engineering from Kettering University and a masterís degree in business administration from Michigan State University. In his 40-year career with GM, he has held a number of leadership positions.



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