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Oklahoma officials meet with GM workers

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry said Tuesday officials will keep working to persuade General Motors Corp. to change its mind about closing an assembly plant that employs 2,200 workers in Oklahoma City.

Henry held out a sliver of hope that GM could still find a use for the plant, such as starting a different product line, since the company has not announced exactly what it will do with the Oklahoma City facility.

``We're going to work with GM officials and explore every opportunity,'' the governor said after a meeting with United Auto Workers' officials and an ad hoc panel Henry formed to see what can be done to aid GM workers.

The plant, which assembles sport utility vehicles, is one of nine facilities GM says it is closing as part of an effort to get production in line with demand.

Bob Alexander, president of UAW Local 1999, said the decision to close the Oklahoma City plant caught workers off guard. ``I've been hearing a lot of anger. A lot of people are pretty upset,'' he said.

He said he appreciated the governor's efforts to develop a contingency plan to help GM workers get retraining and jobs if the plant is shut down as planned.

At one point, Henry said the fact that GM had not decided what to do with the facility was an indication they had ``not absolutely foreclosed the possibility'' of keeping the plant open.

At another point, he said his office had told GM officials they would do everything it could to provide incentives to assist the company, but ``right now, they've told us there is nothing we can do, that this is their decision.''

He said contingency plans will be developed such as trying to find a company that could buy and use the plant.

``I'm not sure GM officials, based on what they're telling me, know what they're going to do with these plants nationwide,'' Henry said.

The committee working on helping GM employees includes officials of the state's vocation-technical agency, CareerTech, the Department of Commerce and the Employment Security Service.

Henry said he has not been able to talk to GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagner, but hoped to do so in the future.

``It's possible something could occur and we could get some action out of Congress that could help keep that plant open. I just don't know yet,'' he said.

Another question to be answered, Henry and UAW officials said, is benefits local UAW workers would receive.

Under the contract, workers are supposed to get a year of benefits, including health care and salary, if they are laid off. The question is whether those benefits become available if a plant is closed, officials said.
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