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Preserving GM jobs

February 03, 1999

Is General Motors repositioning its workers to better compete in a global market, or does it plan to move workers out of its Martinsburg, W.Va. parts plant because of some problem with state law? Or are the rumors about jobs moving, as GM spokespersons say, "pure speculation." Whatever the real reason, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller's attempt to get at the truth has our full support.

GM has had a 2.2 million-square-foot warehouse in Martinsburg for the past 31 years, and now employs 870 workers there to process and distribute auto parts to outlets around the country. The company recently announced that some of the jobs would be transferred for four new plants in North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and California.

Union forces consider those moves a done deal, but are working to head off another move - one that GM hasn't confirmed - to send more jobs to Baltimore.

According to GM spokeswoman Kathleen A. Bommarito, some job shifts have been prompted by logistics reports that promised the changes would result in better customer service. She said she wasn't aware of state officials' attempts to set up a meeting with GM officials, although another spokesperson in Grand Blanc, Mich., said GM was interested in such a session.

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Such a session might reveal, as Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, speculated, that GM's job shifts have more to do with its attempt to compete in a global market than with any state-level problem. Or there may be tax advantages to moving some workers to the new plants. It might even be transportation-related, although with the Martinsburg plant on the edge of Interstate 81, it's hard to see how this could be a factor.

State officials are seeking a meeting for Feb. 18, at which time they'll probably discuss a package of incentives to keep the GM jobs from being moved. Details of those proposed incentives haven't been revealed, so we can't comment on them. We can say, however, that the pay and benefits GM provides its workers justifies any reasonable effort to keep those jobs in Martinsburg.

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