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Auto workers picket at Strasburg

IAC plant to lose 110 more jobs on GM contract headed to Mexico

By Mona Casteel
The Free Press

Members of United Auto Workers Local 2999 staged a peaceful demonstration Wednesday at the Strasburg manufacturing plant of International Automotive Components (IAC) to protest the pending loss of another 110 jobs there.

A UAW local official said the demonstration was held to protest a General Motors decision to move a contract from Strasburg to an IAC plant in Mexico.

Employment at the Strasburg IAC plant has fallen from 1,100 at its peak to 330 today due primarily to sluggish national auto sales. The number of employees at Strasburg IAC would fall to 220 when the GM contract relocates to Mexico.

Workers who lose their jobs as a result of the GM decision would join more than 1,200 others who have been laid off at Shenandoah County manufacturing companies during the past 18 months.

Poor economic conditions have been blamed for the closure of the Johns-Manville and Folder Factory manufacturing plants at Edinburg, a significant reduction in manpower at the Merillat Industries, Inc. plant at Mt. Jackson and a series of layoffs at the R.R. Donnelley printing plant at Strasburg.

Members of UAW Local 2999, joined by employees or former employees of area manufacturing plants, demonstrated in the parking lot of IAC Wednesday to say enough is enough. Union employees contend their agreement to give back $4.33 in pay and benefits two years ago was a good faith effort to help shore up the plant's stability in Shenandoah County.

"We want IAC to realize we gave considerable concessions in 2007 to help keep the Strasburg plant viable and to help them bid for future work for our facility," said Richie Franklin, Local 2999 bargaining chairman, Tuesday, "and that the members of our union are upset that they would relocate 110 American manufacturing jobs from our plant in Strasburg, VA to one of their Mexican operations after we worked with them to help keep programs here in our plant and to hopefully land future work as well.

"The members of UAW Local 2999 also want General Motors to know that our tax dollars have helped bail them out and that GM needs to keep American jobs in the United States or quit taking our tax dollars. We believe that it is extremely important that the American people know what is going on with the loss of our jobs and that we have a shining example going on right here in Strasburg, VA and that this nonsense of outsourcing needs to stop now."

Franklin says 330 hourly workers continue to be employed at the Strasburg IAC. Ten years ago, when the economy was booming, the plant employed 1,100. That number had dropped to 667 by last summer.

Franklin said Tuesday he doesn't know how many in the workforce are members of the union because Virginia is a "right to work" state. Besides hourly workers, IAC at Strasburg employs 53 salaried persons.

Franklin credits Kim Brown for offering the idea of Wednesday's protest.

"She did not feel that we should sit by and let the company pull work from our plant without letting them know how we feel," said Franklin.

IAC had no comments about the protest, he added, and apparently has made none concerning the plant's future.

"We were scheduled for negotiations this past May, but both sides agreed to roll over our current labor agreement for another year," said Franklin. "Our contract now runs until May 19, 2010. We gave the company concessions in 2007 and have gone three years without a pay increase."

IAC reportedly will close four manufacturing plants within the next year but has given no indication where those facilities are located.

David Ladd, director of marketing and communications for IAC, said last month that the 110 layoffs would be made permanent.

IAC says that the discharges "are the result of IAC's transfer of business to plants closer to the customers' manufacturing facilities."

Ladd said General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are the largest buyers of parts produced at the Strasburg plant. But with GM and Chrysler slamming the doors shut on about 25 percent of its dealerships with others possibly on the chopping block next year, the local plant has been hard hit with diminishing orders.