Hundreds of auto workers attend rally

By JENNA MINK, The Daily News,
Thursday, May 14, 2009 12:03 PM CDT

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These days, going to work is a scary experience for Sheri Ricketts.

“We could walk in any day and that be our last day,” said Ricketts, who works at the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant. “It’s frightening. It’s very frightening.”

Holding a sign that read “Keep It Made In America,” Ricketts was one of hundreds of local auto workers who attended a rally Wednesday at the United Auto Workers hall. The event was sponsored by the Alliance for American Manufacturing - a group that’s traveling across the country educating people about the auto industry’s problems and rallying support for more help.

“We need to fight, and we need to fight now,” said Lou Delatore, an AAM representative.

As GM sits on the brink of bankruptcy, local and national auto leaders spoke to workers, urging them to contact elected officials in an effort to keep automotive jobs in the United States.

“GM’s plan is to take 11 of our plants ... and take them overseas and make products and bring it over here. Is that good for us?” Delatore said. “It’s about jobs, folks. Educate (local officials) and tell them we need our jobs, and we need them bad.”

About 7.2 million national jobs are impacted by the auto industry - about 2 million people work for vehicle manufacturers and about 5 million work for auto suppliers, dealers and service providers, according to the AAM.

Lewis Peacock, vice president of organizing for the United Steelworkers, talked about those workers whose jobs are tied to the auto industry - and, more specifically, to the Corvette made in Bowling Green.

“It’s hard to be here and think a car like the Corvette might not be here anymore. I don’t think we should give up on it,” he said. “When my children grow up, I hope they, too, will have a dream of owning a Corvette, and I want it to be made right here.”

Tim Smith, a service representative for the International UAW, represents 16 auto suppliers in his region - which includes Kentucky - and the automobile crisis has impacted those plants “big time,” he said.

A supplier in Bardstown is shutting down next month and a plant in Drakesboro has laid off about 200 people, he said after the rally.

“It kills us. As one brother said the other day, his dream is to be able to go to work and do a decent day’s work for decent pay,” he said. “And it’s going away.”

But Bill Parsons, former managing director for the Global Advanced Leadership Center in Bowling Green and chair of the Global Automotive Conference, had another message: Follow your dreams, despite auto industry woes.

“Everybody is suffering and everybody will continue to suffer,” he told workers. “There will be a tomorrow for each and every one of you. Look at the things you like to do and enjoy to do, and do it.”

But concentrating on dreams is a difficult task for workers such as Ricketts.

If GM files for bankruptcy, Ricketts said she’s afraid her job will be on the line. She’s worked for GM for 15 years.

“Everything you work for is gone,” she said. “Overnight, it’s gone ... these jobs are our livelihoods. It’s what we take care of our kids with.”

Greg Ware depends on his job at the local assembly plant to provide for his son and help take care of his mother. Now, he’s laid off after nearly nine years at GM.

“I help take care of my whole family,” he said. And if he isn’t called back to work, “it’ll make it harder.”

Ware’s brother recently lost his job at a Chrysler plant in Delaware when that facility closed. Ware said he’s concerned his job is next.

“I worry about it,” he said. “But I have a lot of hope in God. That’s the thing that keeps me going.”

Fear and uncertainty also plague retirees, who count on their pensions and are afraid of losing them in a possible bankruptcy case.

“It’s basically my survival,” local retiree Melvin Davis said. “I’ve still got a daughter in college. I’ve still got to live every day.”

Davis worked for GM for 40 years. He retired in April after accepting a company buyout package.

“I got tired,” he said. “I wanted to do something else with my life instead of die inside the plant.”

Jo Gleaves worked at GM for 30 years before taking an early retirement in 2006. Now she’s afraid her pension funds will dwindle alongside the company.

“You work 30 years and to think there’s a possibility you’ll come out with nothing,” she said.

And, if that happens, the prospect of finding a new job during her retirement years is frightening, she said.

“I’m 50 years old,” she said. “I’m not ready to start another career.”