WisBusiness: Officials plan pushback in response to GM plant closing

By Brian Clark

JANESVILLE — Flanked by union representatives and local officials, Gov. Jim Doyle compared the announced Janesville GM plant closing to a “death in the family” and said he would push for GM to consider putting one of its new lines in the plant.

“GM made it clear that this was a plant that they were invested in,” Doyle said. “They brought Barack Obama here just months ago.  It was clear that this plant was the pride of GM.”

If the plant does close, Doyle said the state would look into recouping money from the $10 million state grant GM received in 2004.

Brad Dutcher, president of United Auto Workers Local 95, said the plant’s workers want to work hard with GM to see if they could have a future product in Janesville but acknowledged that chances were slim.

“I don’t want to give our workers false hope, but we’re not giving up,” he said. He also said he’s tired of hearing about how old the plant is (production started there in 1919). “The only thing that’s old is the bricks,” he said, pointing out that the inside had been retooled and modernized

The fallout from the planned 2010 closing wouldn’t just be for GM workers, Dutcher said, but would affect Lear, LSI and other companies that supply the plant.

“It’s no fault of the workers but the market shifted,” Dutcher said.

Union official John Dohner Jr. blamed “politicians in the White House” for promoting policies that shift jobs overseas: “People should wake up and take America back so we can provide a future for our kids. The way things are going now, no one will have jobs.”

Vernette Garecht, whose late husband Phillip worked at plant for more than 35 years, said “it was a great place for him to work” and provided a “wonderful living.” But she also said she wasn’t surprised by the news and thought it was widely expected, especially after the April announcement that ended one shift at the factory.

“I was not surprised, especially with the news a couple of months ago that one shift was ending and with the price of gas continuing to go up,” she said.

Pam Good is an assembler at the plant and a finance worker for the union who started working at GM 22 years ago, immediately after graduating from Janesville Craig High School. She said “it’s all just sinking in right now” and called the announcement “devastating,” saying she had planned on retiring from plant eventually.

Now, she’d consider transferring if that option is offered but said “it’s a very hard adjustment for families.”