UAW retirees deliver 4K protest letters to GM officials

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
Tom Henderson of the General Motors communication staff loads boxes of letters from union workers addressed to General Motrors management onto a cart in the lobby of General Motors headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit.  Union workers deliver 4000 letters on December 21, 2018.

Detroit — A group of United Auto Worker retirees from Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Warren Transmission marched through General Motors Co.'s Renaissance Center headquarters Friday to deliver 4,000 letters protesting the automaker's plan to idle four U.S. plants and transfer thousands of workers next year.

"We made sacrifices to help GM come through bankruptcy," said Butch Barber, who retired from Warren Transmission after 48 years with GM in 2014. "Reconsider and keep us alive as we have kept you alive."

Barber has a daughter and a granddaughter who still work at Warren Transmission, and he says both would be put through "hardship" even if they were to take any of the transfer opportunities GM announced last week.

A handful of UAW retirees — and a union Santa Claus — marched from the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center to the entrance of GM's corporate headquarters to deliver their letters and thousands of others from UAW members, community leaders and business owners from across the country. The letters range from pleas to save the plants to personal stories about the impact GM's plants has on the lives of workers and members of the community.

The Detroit automaker is planning to stop all production at four U.S. plants next year, including Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Warren Transmission in Michigan, as well as Lordstown Assembly in Northeastern Ohio and Baltimore Operations in Maryland. It's part of a larger restructuring of GM's workforce and manufacturing operations designed to save the company $6 billion by 2020.

The letters delivered Friday come after school children from Ohio, near the Lordstown plant, sent letters and drawings to CEO Mary Barra asking her to keep their community's factory open.

Doris Parnell, a Detroit-Hamtramck retiree who worked at the plant when Barra was plant manager there, is asking her former boss to "remember the family."

"With her coming from that facility and knowing the workforce that we had there, it's just unbelievable," Parnell said.

She says her son, a father of seven who works at Detroit-Hamtramck, is being forced to consider moving away from his two youngest children and his wife, a UAW worker at AK Steel.

GM said in an emailed statement Friday, "We understand how the difficult decisions we made on our plants have affected our employees, families and the community. Our focus is on our employees, and as we have said, we are working very hard on providing job opportunities for impacted employees interested in working at other GM plants. We will continue to work with the UAW, community leaders and government officials going forward."

Twitter: @NoraNaughton