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GM to Close Mansfield Plant

Ohio's GM plants were not immune to the auto manufacturing cuts. One of those plants is a stamping plant in Mansfield. WOSU traveled to Richland County to speak with some of its workers.

Cars pass by the gigantic GM stamping plant in Ontario, a small city of about 5,000 people just west of Mansfield.

The 900 workers at the plant got the bad news just as GM filed its bankruptcy papers. In a letter to workers, the plant manager announced the facility will close by next June, if not sooner - if market demand dictates.

This is not the first bad news employees have received. Four-hundred Mansfield workers were already laid off.

Just across the street from the GM plant is the office of its local union - United Auto Workers Union number 549.

The phone in Jim Russell's office was ringing off the hook all morning. Russell is a benefits representative. He's worked at the plant for 28 years.

"Just a second I better get that...Benefits. I'll zip it through again. Your welcome. (Are these people worried about their benefits? Or just calling with questions?) Both. Sure, especially retires after they just got cut," Russell said.

Mansfield workers have two options: take a buy out or try to re-locate to another plant.

Russell said GM's announcement to close Mansfield and three other stamping plants did not come as a shock considering the financial plight of the nation's auto manufacturers. He said he's not sure what will happen to his job. Russell said he may be around a little longer than most because he'll have to help with benefits and retirement plans. But the others? He said it'll be tough to find work.

"Just look at the economy. There's no industry. It's all going out of the country down the tubes. I mean there's nowhere to go really to find work in manufacturing," he said.

There are lots of long-time workers like Russell at the Mansfield plant. Take Bruce Bevan for instance. He's put in 25 years of service at the plant. He's 58-years-old and has been laid off since February.

When asked who he blames for GM's demise, well, he has a whole list of folks.

"Politicians, General Motors, oil companies, bankers. It's not just one person that made the big mistake, you gotta look at the whole picture. And the whole picture says it's everybody's fault. The American people for not buying American," Bevan said. Bevan's is not worried so much about himself. He said he's five years from retirement. He'll likely take the transfer option and move to another plant and retire. He's more concerned for newer employees.

"The ones I feel sorry for are the younger people. We all hired in with the expectation of the American dream. And some people are going to lose that," Bevan said.

One of those younger workers is Rick Metcalf. He walks up the front steps to the UAW office. Metcalf has worked at the plant for nine years and is a senior repairman. He got laid off in January.

"Wasn't surprising. I'm just here to figure out what to do next," he said.

Metcalf said he's at a loss of what to do next. He has the option to transfer to another plant. But like many workers he has a child, and he does not want to uproot his family. So he might take the buyout.

"I heard $45,000 plus a $25,000 car voucher, but that's all I heard," Metcalf said.

While the facility's workers are thought to be hit the hardest - they are losing their jobs - the towns near the plant will likely suffer from its closure as well.

Ken Bender is Ontario's mayor, the small city where the plant is located. Like everyone else Bender was not surprised to hear of the closure, but he was hoping for a miracle.

"This particular stamping plant by GM's own audits this year was number one in several areas: productivity, efficiency, energy efficiency. And we felt those were pretty significant factors that might keep it open," Bender said.

Bender said at the start of this year his town was doing OK fiscally. But like many others it soon discovered more cuts were needed to keep the city in the black. Now that the plant is closing the city stands to lose a good portion of its income tax revenue - about 33 percent.

Down the road is Mansfield, where many of the plants workers live. Mansfield Mayor Donald Culliver said the shutdown will devastate Mansfield and Richland County.

Culliver said Mansfield was already was upon hard times facing an $8 to $10 million deficit. The closing just compounds that fiscal difficulty.

"We going to have some hard times. Not only with those employees who pay income tax to the city of Mansfield, but also those companies that supply the GM plant. And I think that will be worse than actually income from the employees there," Culliver said.

Back at the UAW Bruce Bevan, from Mansfield, said he's not sure of his town's future, but he had a suggestion, something he said worked in the past.

"I don't know what's going to happen. My thinking is all the houses that's been built here in the last ten years, tear em down and put it back to farmland," Bevan said.