New Process Gear workers have tough decision to make

Inside the walls of New Process Gear a critical decision is being made, one that will impact the future of the DeWitt plant. Members of the United Auto Workers Union are voting on a new contract. They got to hear the details of the proposal on Sunday. Magna, the owner of the plant, says if operational break-even performance is achieved by July, it must be sustained in order for the current wage structure to remain in force through September 2011. If specific financial goals are not met by August workers will have to take a pay cut or even worse the plant could close.

"I'd like to see it keep going," says Jerry Kane, a worker who has been with New Process Gear for 11 years. "I'd like to see other jobs. I'd like my kids if they wanted to, if they had the opportunity to come and work but the way it is, I don't feel that's going to happen."

Workers are also being asked to take a cut in vacation time and holiday pay. Many workers say they believe, no matter what, the plant is ultimately doomed.

"I voted no because I don't believe Magna is going to keep this place open whether the contract is ratified or not," NPG Worker Sharon Sommers said.

The union just ratified a new contract a year ago with the company but officials with Magna say back then the sales volume was double what it is now. Anthony D'Angelo, director of communications with Magna, says the new contract is dealing with the economic realities of today.

"If the contract is not approved the operation would remain unprofitable, we wouldn't be able to bid competitively and the decision would be taken at some point to cease operations here," D'Angelo said.

The plant makes transfer cases for SUV's and a big question remains. Before the situation became so dire, why didn't they diversify, especially considering there's been a downturn in SUV sales for quite some time?

"It's a fair question and there are development efforts going on right now in the building that have to do with, for example, the equipment for electric and hybrid electric vehicles," D'Angelo said.

D'Angelo says if the agreement is ratified there will be investments in the plant. But in the end he says no matter what workers decide, there are no guarantees.

Workers have until 4PM Tuesday to vote on the contract. The new contract proposal also includes an incentive bonus for employees to either leave or stay with the company.