An Assembly Line Worker's View of GM Cuts

General Motors, the world's largest automaker, on Monday announced plans to cut 30,000 jobs and close as many as 12 North American production plants and operations in an effort to cut its record losses. Madeleine Brand speaks with Beth Holcomb, a worker at GM's Oklahoma City assembly plant, scheduled to close in 2006.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Autoworkers across North America are coming to terms with yesterday's dramatic layoff announcement from General Motors. General Motors said it was cutting 30,000 jobs at several plants. The company expects the move will cut its costs by some $7 billion by the end of next year, but there is a human cost as well. GM's staff at several plants from Portland, Oregon, to Lansing, Michigan, will lose their jobs. Beth Holcomb and her husband Pete have been longtime workers at GM's Oklahoma City plant. I spoke with Beth earlier.

Ms. BETH HOLCOMB: I hired in in February of 1979. I was hired into the material department, which means I drive a forklift. I've unloaded boxcars and trailers, and that's my job.

BRAND: And your husband also works there?

Ms. HOLCOMB: Yes, he works on the line.

BRAND: And how did you first hear about being laid off?

Ms. HOLCOMB: When we got to work yesterday morning at 6:30, they told us we were to shut down the line at 7:00, that we would have a meeting in the audit area. And everybody was--thought that they were going to introduce our new product. Well, it wasn't that. It was, `This is it.' So that's how we were told.

BRAND: What went through your mind?

Ms. HOLCOMB: Surreal. I just can't believe that it was happening.

BRAND: You had no idea this was coming?

Ms. HOLCOMB: No. No. I knew that General Motors was in trouble, but I didn't think it would be us.

BRAND: And they had already announced 25,000 layoffs earlier, and you didn't think you'd be among them?

Ms. HOLCOMB: No. I thought it would be another plant because we have always produced a quality car and we have a good work force here. So I just didn't think it would be us.

BRAND: What do you have in terms of benefits?

Ms. HOLCOMB: Right now everything's up in the air, just hearing a lot of rumors. From what I'm hearing, that we are still under contract to 2007, so we will be getting, you know, our unemployment and subpay. Now whether they're going to offer early retirement--don't know. Just kind of have to wait and see.

BRAND: Now your husband, I understand, is a member of the UAW, the union bargaining unit at the plant there?

Ms. HOLCOMB: Yes, he is.

BRAND: And so he also had no idea this was coming down?

Ms. HOLCOMB: This is true. In fact, we were at the union meeting the day prior, and the union officials, you know, had the impression that we were OK, and that's what we were told. So they were totally caught off guard, too.

BRAND: And does the union have any plan to help you, any benefits package to help you?

Ms. HOLCOMB: Nothing has come out yet. This was such short notice that they haven't had time to get anything together.

BRAND: And what did you and your husband talk about last night over dinner?

Ms. HOLCOMB: What we're going to do. We're going to sell his Harley. We need to buckle down. I'm going to have to start cooking dinner every night, you know. All of our little luxuries are gone.

BRAND: And you'll have to look for other work, I assume.

Ms. HOLCOMB: I think we'll be OK for a while. It's just, you know, everything's up in the air. It depends on what--when we get our information packet, what's really going to happen. Then we'll go from there.

BRAND: OK. Well, Beth Holcomb, thank you very much, and good luck to you and your husband.

Ms. HOLCOMB: OK. Thank you so much.

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