Quantcast

GM workers, others grapple with bankruptcy filing

Published: Monday, June 1 2009 10:01 a.m. MDT

Jim Fondal, a supervisor at General Motors Pontiac East Assembly is interviewed outside the plant in Pontiac, Mich., Monday. The automaker filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday morning in a deal that will give taxpayers a 60 percent ownership stake and expand the government's reach into big business. The Pontiac Assembly is expected to close. (Carlos Osorio, Associated Press) Jim Fondal, a supervisor at General Motors Pontiac East Assembly is interviewed outside the plant in Pontiac, Mich., Monday. The automaker filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday morning in a deal that will give taxpayers a 60 percent ownership stake and expand the government's reach into big business. The Pontiac Assembly is expected to close. (Carlos Osorio, Associated Press)

DETROIT — General Motors Corp. hopes for a short, surgical and successful bankruptcy. But for people across the country whose lives are intertwined with the automaker, recovery will be far harder and messier than what appears on the balance sheet.

"I think I'm going to cut down on my employees, downsize everything and try to survive," said Carolyn Arafat, whose family-owned business has sold hot food to and cashed checks for GM workers in Pontiac, north of Detroit, for two decades. It's near an assembly plant that GM announced Monday would close by October.

With cuts at local plants in recent years, M&K Liquor makes about 15 percent of what it once did, "and now I'm going to lose that 15 percent," she said.

The once-mighty corporate giant whose brands were household names and plants the lifeblood of many U.S. communities filed its Chapter 11 petition in New York Monday. It marks the fourth-largest bankruptcy in U.S. history and the largest for an industrial company.

Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Malibu automobiles are shown last month at the Orion Assembly plant in Orion Township, Mich.  Assembly plants in Pontiac, Mich., and Wilmington, Del., will close this year, with the Wilmington plant closing in July. (Associated Press) Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Malibu automobiles are shown last month at the Orion Assembly plant in Orion Township, Mich. Assembly plants in Pontiac, Mich., and Wilmington, Del., will close this year, with the Wilmington plant closing in July. (Associated Press)

GM also revealed Monday that it will permanently close nine more plants and idle three others.

The closing of a metal stamping plant near Mansfield, Ohio, will force the city to cut jobs because it will lose one of its biggest employers and water customers. The plant's roughly 1,200 workers make parts for many of GM's slow-selling trucks and sport utility vehicles.

"This is so devastating," said Mansfield Mayor Donald Culliver. "We're all going through budgetary problems and this just adds fuel to the fire."

Small businesses that supply the plant also will suffer, he said. "That's what is going to hurt us even more than losing GM," Culliver said.

Rickey Holmes, 28, a Xerox contract worker for GM at its Renaissance Center headquarters in Detroit, agreed that the turbulence spreads well beyond those who collect a check directly from the automaker.

"Everybody's job is worth worrying about," Holmes said. "I can't sit here and be upset when you have no control over it. It's a situation where you hope everything works out for everyone, especially GM. I'm especially praying that GM stays here in Detroit."

Xerox hasn't told its workers at GM what the future holds for them, he said.

Sam Bazzi, 64, owns Sam's Tailor Shop in the Renaissance Center and most of his business comes from GM employees and others who work with the automaker. If GM were to leave, he would be forced to close as well.

"Because no business, nobody, no traffic. If GM moves out, I don't have a choice."

Brenda Peay, 28, of Detroit, is employed by Tax Lease Consultants, where she mails out tax notices on property owned by GM.

"My job may not be crucial to the production of a car," she said, yet her future could still depend on how GM emerges from bankruptcy.

Delores Jackson, 47, who works at GM's Orion Township plant north of Detroit and has logged 24 years with the automaker, is keeping calm and relying on her faith to get through.

"You know what? Everything is on the bubble," she said. "So I just take it one day at a time and I trust the Lord. He put me here, he knew everything that was going to happen when he sent me here so that's where my trust is at."

James Kendall, president of the United Auto Workers local that represents a metal-stamping plant in Indianapolis that had been set to close in December 2011, said GM told union officials Monday the plant could close sooner.

Kendall said the local's members have agreed to significant contract concessions in a bid to keep the plant, which employs about 800 people.

"We still want the company to be successful. The UAW has never been the company's problem — they've made a lot of money over the years with UAW-represented employees. It was neither one of our faults that the economy failed the way it did. I think in a few years after the loans are paid off the company's going to excel."

"The people here deserve this facility to stay open, but unfortunately it's not up to us."

The Rev. Robert Knox, 53, worked for GM for 31 years before taking a buyout in 2006. His grandfather, father, two brothers and several uncles also have worked for the automaker.

"It gave us a certain type of living that usually a person wouldn't have ... and that's gone," said Knox, now associate minister at Friendship Mission Baptist Church in Pontiac.

"This city's been affected for years because of plants closing and people moving out, and this is going to affect it more," he said of the local assembly plant closing.

"It's just a ripple effect, and eventually it's going to ripple ... all over this country," Knox said.

Associated Press Writers Corey Williams in Detroit, Ben Leubsdorf in Pontiac, Mich., John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, Rick Callahan in Indianapolis and AP Videographer Mark Carlson in Orion Township, Mich., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company