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Others affected by Oklahoma City GM plant closure

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ When Robert Erfourth heard about General Motors' decision to close 12 factories and lay off 30,000 employees nationwide by 2008, he did not hear much about people in his situation.

Erfourth, 27, is a third-generation automotive industry employee who works for Logistics Services Inc., one of several companies that supply parts to GM. He is one of about 100 people with Logistics locally who stand to lose their jobs.

Logistics, Johnson Controls Inc. and Penske are among companies with local operations that provide the automaker with interior parts and other components.

``You can say that for every GM employee, there's five other employees who are the little guys,'' Erfourth said. ``Even though they're cutting 30,000 from GM, that's their employees. What about the other people that depend on General Motors?''

GM announced earlier this month that the last vehicle will roll off the assembly line at its Oklahoma City plant sometime in the first week of February. The United Auto Workers has a contract that covers workers at its suppliers. Separate contracts covers GM employees.

``We have a three-year contract but we don't know with them shutting down if we're going to be entitled to the rest of our signing bonus ... as well as our leftover vacation and severance pay,'' Erfourth said. ``That's what the union is fighting for.''

Erfourth, who drives a forklift at Logistics Services, makes $13.70 an hour plus benefits.

``It's hard to find a job like that in Oklahoma,'' he said. ``My mother has worked for Wal-Mart for 10 years and I've been with LSI for three and I make $1.50 more than she does.'' He said he may apply to a company in Norman that makes automotive parts.

A recently released Oklahoma State University report indicates 7,700 people will lose their jobs with companies that directly or indirectly provide services to the plant. This is in addition to the 2,200 GM plant employees whose jobs were cut locally. Another 400 employees at the plant were on some form of leave and those positions were also eliminated.

Mark C. Snead, a research economist who is also director of the Center for Applied Economic Research at OSU's William S. Spears School of Business, said an economic impact model estimates that each GM job supports 4.2 additional workers in the state economy. The companies range from auto parts firms to hotels GM uses.

``What we're trying to do is estimate all companies that do business with GM rather than just a supplier,'' Snead said. ``They buy everything from food on a daily basis to hotel rooms.''

Johnson Controls Inc., which employs 287 people locally, supplies seats and headliners for the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Envoy sport utility vehicles made at the Oklahoma City plant.

Debbie Lacey, communications manager for Johnson Controls at its Milwaukee, Wis., headquarters, declined to comment on how the closures will affect the company's Oklahoma City workforce.

Dorothy Wheeler, chairwoman of the UAW Local 286 at Johnson Controls, said the company has given the employees notice that they will lose their jobs. Her husband also works for the company. Wheeler, who has three children, said she may get a job as a truck driver.

``But that means no hometime with the family,'' she said.

Snead said the Oklahoma City metropolitan area is the best place for those affected by the plant closure to look for other work because the economy is rapidly growing.

``The size of Oklahoma City and the strength of the ties both suggest that the large majority of them will have a good shot at finding suitable employment,'' he said.

In general, manufacturing workers have the most difficulty finding jobs with comparable income because manufacturing is a shrinking sector of the economy in Oklahoma and the rest of the nation.

``Many will have to go to the service sector unless they have specialized education to find that kind of income,'' Snead said.

Roy Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, said, other than the oil bust of the 1980s, the only thing to compare to the GM plant closing was the layoff of more than 4,000 employees at a Lucent Technologies plant in west Oklahoma City in the 1990s.

``The different thing is our economy was not nearly in as strong a condition as it is now because we're creating, I think the number comes out somewhere around 12,000 net new jobs, and absorbing jobs at the highest rate we ever have,'' Williams said.

``In no way are we saying this is not a big deal. We say we have the ability to absorb these numbers.''

Gov. Brad Henry has formed a task force consisting of the state CareerTech system, the Oklahoma State Department of Commerce and Industry and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) to help workers who are losing their jobs.

Employees can get re-training assistance through the OESC's dislocated worker program and CareerTech and the state Regents are providing short courses, said Norman Noble, deputy Secretary of Commerce for Workforce Development.

``A plant closing down of this size, we also would apply nationally for a grant through the Department of Labor and in all likelihood would be granted it. It makes existing funds available for retraining workers,'' Noble said.

Williams said it will be difficult to find someone to take over the GM plant.

``The Lucent facility is still vacant. There are no single users out there looking for something of this size. Another automobile manufacturer will want to build a facility to whatever design standards and its manufacturing floor should look like,'' Williams said.

``To find a company that needs 3 million square feet of production, there just aren't those companies out there anymore. The tendency is to find multiple tenants and use, kind of a shopping mall instead of one big buyer.''
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