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Workers' Spirits Remain High as GM Prepares to Close Massachusetts Plant

December 01, 1987|Associated Press

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — General Motors Corp.'s car assembly plant here will close today, idling 3,700 workers whose morale was high but mood subdued as they put in their final shifts.

Chuck McDevitt, head of United Auto Workers Local 422, said workers' spirits were good when he visited the plant Monday as rumors continued that GM would reopen the plant this spring.

"The mood is better than in '82" when the plant was closed for 11 months due to economic factors, McDevitt said. "It was scarier then. It was a total shutdown with no recall date."

GM officials have not provided a recall date for the current shutdown but expressed hope that the plant could reopen in the spring.

Put Money Into It

But McDevitt said the mood remained high despite the lack of a back-to-work date. Still persisting in the minds of workers is the fact that GM recently opened a $250-million painting facility at the plant.

"I feel they put a lot of money into it," said Anthony Ferruccio, a 22-year plant veteran whose two children were laid off at the plant as well. "I just think head games are being played. They'll reopen it when they're ready."

GM spokesman Mark Leddy in Detroit said the company's "hopes are that it will return to full operation in the spring. That is predicated on market demand."

However, industry analysts have said it is unlikely that the 39-year-old plant, about 20 miles west of Boston, would reopen because sales of the cars it makes are expected to continue to fall during the rest of the decade and GM already has selected other plants for the cars' replacements in the early 1990s.

95% of Take-Home Pay

Ferruccio, like all of the plant's workers with more than 20 years with GM, will receive 30 weeks of unemployment benefits and 95% of his take-home pay for two years under the UAW's guaranteed supplemental union benefits.

Workers with more than 10 years at the plant will receive the unemployment benefits and one year of supplemental pay.

"It's the younger guys who are hurting," McDevitt said, adding that most of the plant's newer workers used six to eight weeks of their 30-week unemployment benefits when the plant underwent an overhaul last summer.

But even some of the older workers were taking the pre-Christmas layoffs hard, Ferruccio said.

"Some of the people are very depressed," he said. "It's a hell of a time to lay it on them."

Sluggish Sales to Blame

Announcement of the plant closure came Nov. 4. GM blamed it on sluggish sales of the mid-size Chevrolet Celebrity and Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera assembled at the plant.

Ciera and Celebrity production continues at GM plants in Oklahoma City and Doraville, Ga.

Michelle Flaherty, president of the Metro West Chamber of Commerce, said the Framingham plant produced 171,945 Cieras and Celebritys last year.

Flaherty said she believes that the closure will have a ripple effect on the area's economy. With a payroll of $119 million in 1986 and plant purchases of $85.5 million from local suppliers, "you can see where it's going to hurt," she said.

Framingham is in the heart of high-technology region outside Boston. The impact of the plant's closure also is softened by the fact that Massachusetts has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation; it was 3.2% in October.

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