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GM's union employees to get full pay and benefits when Oklahoma City plant idles

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Union workers at the General Motors Corp. assembly plant will receive full pay and benefits when the factory idles later this month, but a severance package won't be as generous for their counterparts at companies that supply parts to the automaker.

The United Auto Workers union and GM have been in negotiations about how employees will be compensated since the automaker said in November it would close 12 facilities and cut 30,000 jobs by 2008.

About 2,200 members of UAW Local 1999 will now be placed in GM's Jobs Bank, which offers them the chance to either volunteer at community agencies, attend classes or sit at the plant for eight hours a day while getting paid.

``The international (union) contacted us early this morning and advised us they had a tentative agreement to put us all in the Jobs Bank,'' Bob Alexander, president of Local 1999, said Friday.

Alexander didn't have further details. GM officials in Detroit didn't comment.

The last day of production in Oklahoma City is scheduled for Feb. 21. The workers are protected under the Jobs Bank until the contract expires in September 2007.

Contracts for UAW workers at non-union suppliers like Johnson Controls Inc., Collins & Aikman and several other suppliers have less generous contracts than GM workers. President Terry Cleary of UAW Local 286, which represents those workers, couldn't be reached for comment on Friday.

The Jobs Bank is included in UAW contacts with GM, Delphi Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler, a legacy from union negotiations in the 1980s, said Victor Devinatz, professor of management and labor relations at Illinois State University.

Devinatz doubted the program would survive contract negotiations in 2007.

``GM and Ford will say they can't be competitive with non-U.S. automakers if they continue supporting this, especially with what health care costs are now,'' Devinatz said.

In the fourth quarter, GM recorded a $1.3 billion after-tax restructuring charge, $800 million of which will pay for the Jobs Bank at idled plants.

The uncertainty about he status of GM's idled union workers in Oklahoma City spurred rumors and unrest at the plant.

``The situation in Oklahoma City is becoming increasingly volatile due to the lack of concrete information we are able to provide the membership,'' Local 1999 Shop Chairman Ron Webb wrote in a letter to international UAW representatives in Detroit.

Workers could have been paid state unemployment benefits and supplemental benefits adding up to about 70 percent to 75 percent of normal pay.
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