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110 jobs lost in decision

By Preston Knight
The Northern Virginia Daily

STRASBURG - Fresh out of high school, Scotty Miller applied to work at International Automotive Components at the suggestion of his uncle.

Twenty-six years later, the Wardensville, W.Va., resident is still going strong as a maintenance man at the plant. That is, Miller, 44, is hanging on as tight as he thinks the company lets him.

"At one time, there was nothing I wouldn't do for this company," he said as he participated in a peaceful protest of outsourcing American jobs outside of IAC on Wednesday afternoon. "It's just corporate greed. ... What's our children going to do? That's what worries the hell out of me."

In May, IAC announced that 110 local jobs would be lost as production of a General Motors product would be shifted to Mexico by the end of July. Company spokesman David Ladd said that IAC is required to be in close proximity to its customer, and GM needed production of this particular product near Mexico, where IAC has an existing location.

Because the local plant had capacity, Strasburg received the product several months ago after another IAC plant lost it. No new employees were hired for the product line, Ladd said, and because of the "volatile" nature of the automotive industry, it's difficult to say whether the plant would have laid off employees anyway had it never received the new GM product.

Regardless, jobs are heading elsewhere, which led to Wednesday's protest, held by United Auto Workers Local 2999. It featured about 100 employees throughout a three-hour period standing along Queen Street holding signs with slogans including "How Can We Compete with Mexico?" and "Looking for Made in USA?" Miller held the latter.

"I'm not as optimistic as most people," he said of the plant's future. "I look at the glass as half empty. It was a good plant when I started 25-26 years ago. You see places do things for the community, like First Bank. When's the last time you've seen IAC do anything for the community?"

Union President Karen Foster, who walked around with a megaphone shouting at passing vehicles Wednesday, is a bit more optimistic, but no less critical.

"We keep moving jobs out, but when does the price drop dramatically?" she said. "Today is a working man's day to shine in Strasburg. Is America becoming the land of the free and the unemployed?"

In June 2007, plant employees took concessions in the amount of $4.33 off their hourly wages and benefits. They haven't had a raise since then, either. Losing employees on top of that, protesters said, is unfair.

"I thought I'd retire from here, but I'm not sure if that's possible now," said Hal Thompson, 48, a 21-year employee from Star Tannery. "The fight we don't fight today is the fight our children will have to fight tomorrow."

To combat outsourcing, he suggests people call their local elected officials and that tariffs be placed on all imports, taking away incentives to send jobs out of the country.

Protesters stressed that Wednesday was not just about IAC's loss, as the laying off of employees has ripple effects throughout a community, from the customer base for other businesses to fewer people in the area paying taxes.

"The community suffers just as much as the workers," Thompson said.

Foster, 45, of Front Royal, also has worked at IAC for 21 years, as has Richie Franklin, 48, from Frederick County. Both think the local plant is in good shape because of an experienced local work force with a proven track record.

However, Foster still points out that since she first started working, the number of employees at the plant has dwindled from around 1,100 to today's approximately 330. The protest may or may not serve to keep the number where it is, she said, but it was important to get out the message of the negative impact of outsourcing out.

"We'll go back to work [Thursday] and hope in some small way we made a difference," Foster said, "if not in reality then at least in our own hearts."

Karen Foster, the president of United Auto Workers Local 2999, leads a protest against IAC outsourcing jobs to Mexico in Strasburg on Wednesday.

A group of protesters demonstrate along Queen Street in Strasburg on Wednesday.

Dakota McCauley, 8, and Victoria Harris, 9, join the protest.

Karen Foster, right, leads a group of protesters against outsourcing jobs away from IAC in Strasburg. Foster is president of UAW Local 2999.