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One GM plant to phase out operations in Martinsburg

September 30, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - General Motors Corp. will phase out operations at one of its two plants in Martinsburg over the next few years and move the work to three plants in Michigan, cutting nearly half of the jobs at the Berkeley County facility, a company spokeswoman said Wednesday.

A local United Auto Workers official said Wednesday night he was "very upset" about the announcement.

Several meetings were held with GM employees throughout the day to let them know of the plans, said Katie McBride, director of communications for GM Service and Parts Operations.

Over the next six months, packaging jobs in the Martinsburg GM processing center will be moved to plants in Pontiac, Drayton Plains and Flint in Michigan.

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Fifty to 100 jobs will be affected by that move, McBride said.

Over the next few years, the remainder of operations at the processing center will be moved to the Michigan plants, affecting 150 to 200 jobs, McBride said.

Employees can apply for a transfer to another GM plant. Some processing plant employees likely will be able to get jobs at the parts distribution center in Martinsburg, McBride said.

GM had considered moving all Martinsburg jobs elsewhere, she told The Associated Press.

"But we decided not to do that," McBride said. "The parts distribution center will stay there and jobs won't be affected."

The two-building complex employs a total of 440 people, she said.

Employees who cannot move will be granted "protected status," which means they will get full pay and can do other work, such as community service, until they obtain a job with GM, McBride said.

Ed Lewis, president of United Auto Workers Local 1590, said he returned from Detroit Wednesday night and was not at the plant when the announcement was made. Although Lewis declined to comment until he gets more detail about the move, he said he was surprised by the announcement.

"I'm very upset about it. We worked hard over there to keep jobs in the plant. It's kind of a shock," Lewis said.

Ed Lambert, shop chairman for UAW Local 1590, said the plans that were explained to employees were somewhat sketchy, especially those concerning the transfer of the 150 to 200 jobs. It is possible fewer jobs might be transferred to Michigan if the market improves, Lambert said.

Lambert said he did not think the announcement came as a surprise to workers because they knew something like this might happen. Some of the younger workers might not understand why the jobs are being moved and meetings will be held next week to explain to them what is happening, Lambert said.

The processing center is GM's larger building, which can be seen from Interstate 81, said Bob Crawford, director of the Berkeley County Development Authority.

It opened in 1968.

GM's newer building, a $30 million parts distribution center that opened in Cumbo Yard Industrial Park a few years ago, will not be affected, McBride said.

The industrial park is off W.Va. 9 between Martinsburg and Hedgesville.

"We're distressed of course that they are cutting out that (section of operations)," Crawford said.

He said, however, he is grateful for the number of jobs GM has provided over the years and is glad a new facility will replace the processing center.

GM plans to spend $5.5 million retrofitting the processing center into one of four collision centers in the country, McBride said. That plant, set to open in 15 to 18 months, will provide for 10 to 20 jobs, McBride said.

As a collision center, the plant will be used to store parts commonly needed after vehicle wrecks, including sheet metal and windshield glass. Those parts will then be shipped to customers who need to have their cars repaired, McBride said.

The decision to move processing center operations to Michigan was based on the need to increase efficiency and better serve customers, McBride said.

The processing center stores parts that are shipped from suppliers. Because many suppliers are near Michigan, the amount of time it takes to receive those parts will be reduced, McBride said.

There are currently five processing centers in the United States - four in Michigan and the one in Martinsburg, McBride said.

There are many more distribution centers, from which parts are shipped to regional GM dealerships, she said.

Staff writer Dave McMillion contributed to this story.

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