Shrinking GM Means Pain for Factory Families

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Amanda Grunduski and her husband Mark. Credit: Frank Langfitt, NPR.

Amanda Grunduski (pictured with her husband and co-worker, Mark) was thrilled when she was hired by GM and bought a three-bedroom house along a river. Now, her plant is closing and she’s looking for a more stable profession. Frank Langfitt, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt, NPR
Roger Post in his motor home. Credit: Frank Langfitt, NPR. i

Roger Post started in the auto industry at $2.27 an hour in 1969. Now he makes $26 an hour. He says GM has given him a very good living. He plans to drive his 38-foot motor home to Alaska when the plant closes and he retires. Frank Langfitt, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt, NPR
Roger Post in his motor home. Credit: Frank Langfitt, NPR.

Roger Post started in the auto industry at $2.27 an hour in 1969. Now he makes $26 an hour. He says GM has given him a very good living. He plans to drive his 38-foot motor home to Alaska when the plant closes and he retires.

Frank Langfitt, NPR

GM vs. Toyota

GM and Toyota are the two biggest car companies in the world. We compare them side-by-side:

Average assembly line wage
GM: $31.35 per hour
Toyota: $27 per hour

Health Care Costs per Vehicle (2004)
GM: $1,525
Toyota: $201

For decades building American cars was a family affair. Children followed their parents into the auto plants, where generous union-negotiated wages lifted them into the middle class.

But the days of the industry's blue-collar aristocracy are numbered.

Ford and General Motors will eliminate 60,000 jobs and close more than a dozen plants in the coming years.

Amanda Grunduski is one of the workers facing a future outside of the GM family.

She grew up in Flint, Mich., where her parents work at a GM truck plant. Five years ago, Grunduski followed their lead and took a job at the GM assembly line outside of Atlanta.

Her lifestyle changed overnight. She nearly tripled the money she had been making selling eye glasses.

A couple years later — at age 25 — Grunduski bought a three-bedroom house with a marble fireplace in the country. Last year she made $58,000 and seemed to be on her way to the American dream.

But as Grunduski's fortunes rose, GM's fell. Her plant makes a mini-van called the Chevy Uplander. It's not a big seller. As inventory mounted, the plant occasionally sent workers home.

Last month, GM said it would close the plant after nearly six decades in operation. Amanda probably doesn't have enough seniority to transfer elsewhere in the GM system.

She and her husband, Mark, are expecting a child in May. But they can't depend on his salary. He works at GM, too.

Only one other major employer around Atlanta pays such high wages for industrial work. That's Ford, which could close its plant as well.

For people who started in the 1970s — when GM was king — the auto business has been a great ride. Roger Post drives vehicles from one part of the plant to another.

He hopes to retire and make a quick getaway before the plant closes in 2008. Last year Post bought a 38-foot motor home for nearly $170,000.

He climbs up the stairs and shows off the vehicles features, including walls that expand with the press of a button.

Post has driven all over the continental U.S. He has bigger plans for life after retirment. He wants to go to Alaska to go fishing.

Post has a 22-year-old son. He used to work as a temp at the Atlanta plant. Post told his son that if he wanted to be an auto worker, he should get a job at Toyota.

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