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GM plant idling injects uncertainty into lives of UAW workers

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
UAW member Bryan Moore, 41, of Troy works at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck factory

A couple who met working the assembly line. A man who finally settled into a factory after working at several others. And a single mom who has survived layoffs and callbacks in almost three years.

These are some of the 1,600 United Auto Workers members who say their lives have been hit by shock waves of uncertainty after General Motors Co. targeted the Detroit-Hamtramck plant for possible closure.

Production for the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Volt at Detroit-Hamtramck ends March 1, with the lines for the Cadillac CT6 and Chevrolet Impala coming to a halt June 1. GM has said 1,500 workers have volunteered to transfer, and about 700 are already en route to new jobs in Michigan and Tennessee.

"It would change the complete dynamic of our home," said Bryan Moore, 41, of Troy, who is a fork lift driver along with 34-year-old wife Dominique.

"Now we're kind of in limbo," said Moore, who has three children. "We don't know what's going to happen. If we get laid off, our benefits could run out, too."

The Moores were some of the UAW members the union made available Monday as the North American International Auto Show's media week swung into high gear. They gathered at UAW Local 22's hall in Southwest Detroit.

The plant idling "has created a lot of uncertainty for our members about their future because they don't know where they are going to have jobs at and how long they'll have to wait to get to those jobs and if they'll have to move to get to those jobs," said Mike Plater, UAW Local 22's shop chairman.

Plater and UAW Local 22 President Celso Duque the plant's members tend to have more single parents than other factories.

"They really don't have the option of leaving the state," Duque said. "It's putting a lot of burden on quite a few of our members."

The scenarios are scary for the Moores, who met at the plant in 2010 and were married a year later.

UAW member Dominique Moore of Troy works at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck factory.

"We just clicked," Dominique Moore said. Bryan started out there at 19 years old, and remembers when GM's CEO Mary Berra once ran the Detroit-Hamtramck plant. 

"I grew up in Detroit-Hamtramck," said Bryan Moore, who remembers when GM CEO Mary Barra used to run the Detroit-Hamtramck plant. "I've seen the plant transform right in front of my eyes. This has been a lifestyle. This has been what I know."

Because Bryan was in the hospital during the transfer selection process, the couple says they couldn't try to pick where they might transfer. Now they are at the whim of GM, they said.

"It's a lot to think about," Dominique said.

Robert Patten, 47, of Waterford, said he has worked at most GM plants in the region and has weathered the 2009 bankruptcy and other layoffs. He has traveled as far away as Lansing until he finally settled at Detroit-Hamtramck. 

UAW member Robert Patten, 47, of Waterford works at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck factory.

"What a lot of people don't understand is, sometimes you just cannot move," Patten said. "As soon as you get through that door (of promotion), there's another shift that happens in your work environment. And that's where we're at now."

Patten said he's going to transfer to Flint. But the problem for himself and his wife, who are empty nesters, is he might be assigned a shift that won't allow him to see her.

"I'm going to take the job because I've got to provide for my family, but I've been sacrificing my whole life," said Patten, who once worked side by side with his mother on the line. "General Motors is an American dream job for me." 

"What if they throw me on third shift?" he said. "Do I really want my wife home by herself while I'm at work?" he said. "That's something to think about. I have seen a lot of couples go through divorce because of decisions General Motors has made, whether it's moving you out of state or putting you on different shifts."

Patten said he missed out on time with his son because he worked second shift. "And you mix that with overtime, you're never there," he said.

Renee Dixon, 38, of Roseville, has spent the past year helping to build the doors of the vehicles. But the single parents has gone through layoffs and callbacks to work while having children aged 6 and 10.

UAW member Renee Dixon, 38, from Roseville works at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck factory.

One layoff lasted five months in 2018, she said.

"There was always that hope. We were told this is what's going to happen and you've got to sacrifice a little for the greater good," Dixon said. "You get laid off for a little while, but when you come back you might have a better job or you have a more solid vehicle. We always knew we were coming back to something better."

Now, she said, "What do I do? The entire plant doesn't have a return date."

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