GM Announcement Gives Janesville Hope
JANESVILLE - Things could be looking up for auto manufacturing jobs in Janesville.
General Motors said Monday that its shuttered SUV plant in Janesville was one of three plants where it will consider building a line of small cars.
"We have a lot, a long way to go," explained governor Jim Doyle.
"This will be a hard competition, but we are still alive and we believe Janesville is the best place for GM to be."
The optimism for re-opening the plant is shared outside Wisconsin, as the head of the United Auto Workers also believes Janesville has a reasonable chance for re-opening.
"Janesville is in a position where, right now, it's in flux, but at least it's got hope, and there's a chance there that eventually a product will come into that facility," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger on 620WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Morning News."
"As part of our negotiation, we got the company to agree that instead of just idling facilities, closing them, and putting them off with the 'bad assets,' that Janesville is going to fall on the good side of the equation. That gives them hope."
Specifically, Gettelfinger pins that hope on how General Motors has given the federal government sales expectations - 10 million cars sold per year - that may be low compared to the growth potential the company has for the near future.
"Normally, in a recession, we would see that drop to 14 or 12 million," explained Gettelfinger.
"We know that it's going to be a while before sales increase, but we've got those facilities in standby mode because we know that seasonal rate of 10 million is not going to stay there. It's going to increase and grow.
"We want these companies to be in a position where they can take a facility like Janesville and make it operational."
That's where, Gettelfinger says, his organization negotiated the status of "standby" instead of "idle" for the Janesville and other potential facilities.
"The fact that we were able to get the companies to agree to put these facilities in standby mode, as opposed to 'idle'...when we hear the word idle, we automatically know that means ceasing production, and eventual closure. For them to agree to put these facilities in standby mode is big for us."
How Did We Get Here?
"Even on the inside, this has been a challenging situation," explained Gettelfinger. "A lot of things are hard to understand."
So many internal and external factors combine to cause recessions, and companies like GM going bankrupt.
Many say that the concessions the company made to union workers in their 2007 contract caused the company to fall apart.
Not so, claims Gettelfinger.
"How did we get to where we're at today? We looked at the subprime housing market. We looked at what happened on Wall Street. We looked at tight money markets. We saw gasoline get to $4/gallon. We saw a lack of consumer confidence. We saw a collapse of the auto industry around the world.
"I don't see how anyone realistically that sat back and made a statement based on the facts could agree that it's these contracts that have hurt these companies. It's the economic downturn that we're in."
Workers, Leaders Share Optimism
Just a year ago, the plant had workers. Today it's nearly empty.
Still, Monday's announcement is giving all of those laid off workers a bit of hope.
"We stuck here," said Skip Marshall, a former GM employee to TODAY'S TMJ4's Lauren Leamanczyk.
"We held out and we went to school and set up plan b, but we're hoping we can get back in here."
That's more likely today.
Skip is optimistic after hearing Janesville's in the running to make smaller vehicles.
"i just hope the corporation gives us a chance here because i know we could do a good job."
GM employees here in Wisconsin tout their work ethic and the good relationship between the local union and the company.
Janesville Democratic State Representative Mike Sheridan, a GM retiree, thinks that's important.
"I think our chances are good in that respect," said Sheridan.
Still, he cautions workers from getting too excited.
"I think people need to keep this in reality that there are three plants that are in the running for this product."
Barry Bickle, one of the few laborers still employed here admits the last few months have been hard.
"You're in a no man's land, so it's very hard to plan for the future," explained Bickle.
He's now convinced GM will keep this plant alive.
"Hope for Janesville!"
The workers we talked to say they are counting on their elected leaders to make a good case for re-tooling this plant and putting people here to work.