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Thread: No sympathy for Detroit at a Kia plant in Georgia

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    Default No sympathy for Detroit at a Kia plant in Georgia

    No sympathy for Detroit at a Kia plant in Georgia - Los Angeles Times

    The residents of this town are learning to enjoy Korean barbecue, and are wary of bailing out American automakers. 'The foreign cars took the lead, and they deserve it,' says one.
    By Richard Fausset

    November 29, 2008

    Reporting from West Point, Ga. This attractive old mill town along the Chattahoochee River, with its brick downtown and streets of cozy, unpretentious homes, could be the backdrop for a patriotic American car commercial -- lacking only the plaintive croak of a Bob Seger or John Mellencamp.

    But America's Big Three automakers, which are teetering at a financial abyss, shouldn't expect much sympathy here.

    Kia Motors, the South Korean automaker, is building a plant in town, promising 2,500 jobs to help replace a textile industry that has all but vanished. The locals are excited to have nonunion work that will start at about $14 per hour. They are discovering the joys of bulgogi -- a different kind of barbecue -- at the Korean restaurants popping up.

    And many are wondering why Detroit still thinks it's so special that it can ask taxpayers for a $25-billion bailout.

    "The foreign cars took the lead, and they deserve it," said Emile Earles, owner of Sweet Georgia Brown, a gift shop on a quiet downtown thoroughfare.

    Earles, 60, said she is fed up with Detroit -- fed up with its fat labor contracts, its arrogant CEOs and even her Cadillac, which gets only 15 miles per gallon and cost her dearly when gas spiked to $4.

    Buying American, she added, "is still a big deal. But you can only be patriotic until you can't afford it anymore."

    Such sentiments represent more than a marketing problem for the CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, who will return to Congress next week to argue that a federal cash infusion will help them avoid bankruptcy.

    A number of the bailout opponents are lawmakers representing Southern states that have lured foreign auto plants in recent years with generous tax incentives and right-to-work laws that guarantee abundant cheap labor.

    Like many residents of West Point, these lawmakers are wary of helping the domestic auto companies. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), whose district includes West Point, said the bailout would actually harm the companies by shielding them from the vigorous competition presented by auto plants in the South.

    "Competition makes people do a better job," he said.

    Westmoreland argues that fairness is another issue. Why, he wonders, should his constituents subsidize auto workers who, thanks to generous union contracts, often earn higher wages and better benefits than nonunion workers in the South? And didn't those contracts help get the Big Three into this mess?

    "The benefits a lot of these union members are offered is much better than what the average guy gets out there, whether he's working in an auto plant or not," he said.

    Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Auto Workers, has argued that union contracts are not greedy, as some critics allege. This month, he said that lavish state incentives to foreign auto companies are one reason why domestic automakers deserve federal help.

    Kia certainly found plenty of incentives in west Georgia. When the company announced plans for its auto plant in early 2006, it came after intense courting from state and local officials, who offered the company tax breaks and other incentives totaling more than $400 million.

    In West Point, disdain for Detroit commingles with gratitude for Kia, which plans to begin production of its light SUV, the Sorento, next November.

    The new jobs will counter the devastating collapse of the textile industry in this border region of Alabama and Georgia known as the Chattahoochee Valley.

    The industry declined in the last two decades amid the turmoil of buyouts and the lure of cheap labor overseas. In Troup County, which encompasses part of West Point, unemployment stands at 8.9%. On the Alabama side, in Chambers County, unemployment is 14.3% -- the highest in the state.

    It's little surprise then that Kia has received more than 43,000 applications for the 2,500 openings. Another 2,500 jobs will be created by five new suppliers that will make parts for the main plant.

    As a result, West Point can seem like the rarest of American places these days -- a city daring to hope and planning for growth. Driving around town -- in his new Sorento -- Mayor Drew Ferguson IV talks of plans for riverfront development, a new high school, a new kayak launch on the river. Downtown, a sushi restaurant announces itself with a Grand Opening sign; a new Irish pub is coming soon.

    Todd Costley, 45, owner of a house-painting company, has added the name of his business in Korean script on the side of his Ford Ranger pickup. He hasn't had any Korean business yet, but with the number of foreign workers who have arrived in town, he figures it's inevitable.

    Costley is of the old school: He likes his car or motorcycle to carry an American brand. He supports bailing out Detroit, but reluctantly, fearing the broader economic calamity that may come if the carmakers fail.

    But as part of the deal, he said, domestic auto companies must learn from their mistakes.

    "I think our government needs to have somebody analyze these foreign carmakers," he said. "Maybe we can copy ourselves off of them."

    Some of the opposition to the bailout stems from the long-standing opinion that Detroit no longer builds durable cars.

    On Monday afternoon at the Korean BBQ House -- a year-old restaurant in a former Pizza Hut -- a pair of Georgia natives in work shirts sat among Korean businessmen and homemakers, sampling braised short ribs. Both worked for a company that was helping build the auto plant; they said they couldn't give their names for fear of losing their jobs.

    The larger of the two men, a 57-year-old in a camouflage ball cap, growled angrily over what he called Detroit's incompetence.

    "I drive an '86 Nissan -- it's got 160,000 miles, and I can drive it to California today," he said. "Now you show me an American car that can do that."

    Across the street, more traditional Southern fare was offered at Roger's Pit-Cooked Bar-B-Que. Here, too, there was little enthusiasm for a bailout.

    Owner Debbie Williams, 50, blamed the Big Three for failing to change with the times and build smaller cars. She said she was thinking about getting rid of her Ford Explorer. "My next car is going to be a Kia, 'cause I appreciate them coming," she said.

    Leon Newton, 74, a retired pastor, said the domestic companies should be left to fend for themselves. Besides, he said, globalization has muddied the old rallying cry of "buy American."

    "I have no problem with the foreign car companies because they employ people here in America," he said. "We're making 'em here."

    Across town at Langley Motor Co., the local GM dealership, salesman Eddie W. Striblin sat in an empty showroom that seemed trapped in another era. The only car on the floor was a black-and-gold 1977 Trans Am in mint condition. The Marshall Tucker Band played on the radio.

    Striblin predicted that, despite all their troubles, the Big Three would survive somehow. Other companies may have a better business model, he argued, but no one delivers the romance of the road like the Americans.

    "Let me ask you a question," he said leaning over a clean desk. "You ever heard of anybody braggin' on a '57 Honda?"

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    Elite Member B.C.'s Avatar
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    And many are wondering why Detroit still thinks it's so special that it can ask taxpayers for a $25-billion bailout.

    Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Auto Workers, has argued that union contracts are not greedy, as some critics allege. This month, he said that lavish state incentives to foreign auto companies are one reason why domestic automakers deserve federal help.

    Kia certainly found plenty of incentives in west Georgia. When the company announced plans for its auto plant in early 2006, it came after intense courting from state and local officials, who offered the company tax breaks and other incentives totaling more than $400 million.

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    Elite Member RevellingInSane's Avatar
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    Having owned a Kia when I was a student, I can honestly say that is the worst car I have ever owned! It was well-maintained and not treated any differently from the Fords and Chevys I owned and that piece of crap always had problems, starting within the first year!

    Just reading the comments from people in that area shows me they are economically ignorant. Tax breaks and tariff relief are why they put the plants in the US.

    Wait until they have to pay for parts and repairs on a Kia.



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    Elite Member Brookie's Avatar
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    Kia Motors can kiss my extremely American ass. More than once.

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    Elite Member Str8_uncut-jock's Avatar
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    Luckily I will never run for public office, so I can say things that I think without fear of a backlash or political price. I think Detroit and the Big 3 automakers have screwed themselves royally...mostly by agreeing to hefty contracts with the unions. I'm sorry to offend those who work in the car factories...but there are way too many people making way too much money on those lines! I mean, I know people who work or used to work in car factories who were making almost $100,000 a year...after overtime, etc. Come on! $100,000 for low skilled labor (and it is low skill cause without the unions any single person on that line could be replaced by someone else in less than an hour)...that's the real problem with the auto industry! At this point, I am all for letting them file bankruptcy and cancelling the union contracts...move those big companies down south where you can get the exact same level of work from employees who would be elated to earn $15.00-$20.00 an hour! Where did the auto industry go wrong...when American consumerism convinced factory line workers that they had exceptional skills and should be able to afford luxury cars, $200,000 homes and retirement accounts that a lot of other folks would envy.
    Last edited by Str8_uncut-jock; December 1st, 2008 at 11:39 AM.

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    Elite Member louiswinthorpe111's Avatar
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    I do agree. One of the reasons Detroit's in the mess they are is because of the unions. Making 90K a year for factory work is ridiculous. and not to mention the retiree pensions are astronomical.

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    Elite Member B.C.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Str8_uncut-jock View Post
    Luckily I will never run for public office, so I can say things that I think without fear of a backlash or political price. I think Detroit and the Big 3 automakers have screwed themselves royally...mostly by agreeing to hefty contracts with the unions. I'm sorry to offend those who work in the car factories...but there are way too many people making way too much money on those lines! I mean, I know people who work or used to work in car factories who were making almost $100,000 a year...after overtime, etc. Come on! $100,000 for low skilled labor (and it is low skill cause without the unions any single person on that line could be replaced by someone else in less than an hour)...that's the real problem with the auto industry! At this point, I am all for letting them file bankruptcy and cancelling the union contracts...move those big companies down south where you can get the exact same level of work from employees who would be elated to earn $15.00-$20.00 an hour! Where did the auto industry go wrong...when American consumerism convinced factory line workers that they had exceptional skills and should be able to afford luxury cars, $200,000 homes and retirement accounts that a lot of other folks would envy.
    After working in the auto industry for 32 years I have never made $100,000. or no where near that amount. And I worked 10 hours a day for most of those years. In order to make $100,000. a person has to live in the plant, working 7 days, 12 hours a day and start at 4am. The annual income for a UAW member working in an assembly plant is $58,300. Most assembly plant workers only work 40 hours.

    We cannot be replaced in less than an hour. The department I was working in before I was laid off last Wednesday was a machining operation, a highly technical operation that required years of on the job training. We had a rough enough time when temp workers were hired to see the plant through to the plant closing. No way could we be replaced within an hour by new workers. It is about quality and safety. If you want to think we are unskilled go ahead and think that, I know better. We aren't building hamburgers it's cars.

    Where is the money going to come from to build these plants in the south? If not for the American auto worker fighting for worker rights the foreign workers in the US would never be recieving the pay and benefits they do. What about the workers in states other than the south where the cost of living is higher?

    What about the CEO's that max out their FICA 40 minutes into the year? That make in one day what takes the lowly line worker a full year to make.

    Where did we go wrong where Americans no longer wants a middle class but a lower income America and the rich? Where we no longer want people to be able to own a home and be able to afford to drive a car that they help build? Where did we go wrong where we no longer want the American worker to be able to retire and let a younger worker take their place? To be able to send our children to college?

    It's not right to put the blame only on the line worker. The economy has nothing to do with it? The choices of management have nothing to do with what's happened? The million dollar salaries of upper management have nothing to do with it? "Come on"

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    Elite Member Str8_uncut-jock's Avatar
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    You can be defensive if you want to and that's fine by me, but it doesn't solve the problem of the auto industry. Fact is you guys are/were building substandard automobiles that people did not want and you were getting paid too much to do it. I stand by that. A quick search of job openings at auto assembly plants reveals that the line jobs require a high school diploma or GED. You may not have made $100,000 annually, but I don't know many high school graduates who are pulling in nearly $60,000 a year either! Hell, I don't know a whole lot of college graduates who are making that these days!

    Are the execs making too much...sure they are! I never said they weren't. Is the economy bad? Well, yeah. Are people still buying more foreign designed cars than American...well, the answer is yeah there too (unless we want to count the Ford F-150).

    Oh, and I am all for you owning a home and a car...but as a society we need to learn that not everyone should expect to have the absolute best available. Our kids are growing up expecting designer everything, luxury everything and we (all of us) have bought into this idea that we should have whatever we want. We look at the Jones' and they have luxury cars and huge homes and we think we should too....well, that's just not the way it should work. Every persons work is not equal and not every type of work should result in every person having the absolute best.

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    Elite Member Just Kill Me's Avatar
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    I like bulgogi.
    KILLING ME WON'T BRING BACK YOUR GOD DAMNED HONEY!!!!!!!!!!

    Come on, let's have lots of drinks.

    Fuck you all, I'm going viral.

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    Elite Member B.C.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Str8_uncut-jock View Post
    You can be defensive if you want to and that's fine by me, but it doesn't solve the problem of the auto industry. Fact is you guys are/were building substandard automobiles that people did not want and you were getting paid too much to do it. I stand by that. A quick search of job openings at auto assembly plants reveals that the line jobs require a high school diploma or GED. You may not have made $100,000 annually, but I don't know many high school graduates who are pulling in nearly $60,000 a year either! Hell, I don't know a whole lot of college graduates who are making that these days!

    Are the execs making too much...sure they are! I never said they weren't. Is the economy bad? Well, yeah. Are people still buying more foreign designed cars than American...well, the answer is yeah there too (unless we want to count the Ford F-150).

    Oh, and I am all for you owning a home and a car...but as a society we need to learn that not everyone should expect to have the absolute best available. Our kids are growing up expecting designer everything, luxury everything and we (all of us) have bought into this idea that we should have whatever we want. We look at the Jones' and they have luxury cars and huge homes and we think we should too....well, that's just not the way it should work. Every persons work is not equal and not every type of work should result in every person having the absolute best.
    You only made statements against the UAW. You didn't mention anything else that figures into the equation. So if you want to say I'm being defensive go ahead. All car sales are down. A friend of mine just quit a job as a car salesman for Honda because he was working for nothing. Cars aren't selling. The foreign car manufacturers don't have the legacy cost the American companies have. The foreign companies don't have the extra burden of health care that the US companies do.

    I don't have the best avaliable. I live in a modest small 950 sq. ft. house, my children don't wear designer clothes nor do I. I drive a '02 vechicle. I don't own the lastest and greatest of anything nor can I afford to. Sure some people have gotten in over there heads and thought they could have the best of everything and many of them are losing it now. Not all of us have bought into the the idea we have to have best of everything. Some of us are single parents and don't have the extra income that most households have these days.

    The UAW isn't sitting behind a desk with an "education" we are out on the line breaking our bodies down. It was your attitude that since are uneducated we are worthless (anyone can do the job in an hour) that gets me and the false statement that we make over $100,000.

    It's unions like the UAW that have brought the standard of living up for all not just the membership. There are many factors figuring in the equation and I will get "defensive" when you talk down the the so called uneducated working class. I will get defensive knowing what happens to the areas around plants that close after going through 2 plant closings now in the last 21 years.

    When my daughter spent a summer in S.Korea (I didn't pay for her trip, she was working on a US military base, all expenses paid by the program Camp Adventure) she came home and told me how you didn't see anything over there that wasn't made in Korea. Now the Koreans are building a plant here in the US. Good, I like to see people work, but how many US products can we buy anymore?
    Last edited by B.C.; December 1st, 2008 at 09:50 PM.

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    Elite Member Str8_uncut-jock's Avatar
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    You know what I like about this site? It has every type of person out there on it. And I learn something almost every single day. We all bring our own personal experiences to the table and our own perspectives. From where I sit, I see people who I know making a whole lot of money for a job they didn't spend 10 years in college to get. I know people with doctoral degrees, masters degrees who are working in education and they would love...love...to be making $60,000 per year! I mean that...they would. And I was writing from my perspective and I DO know people who work at auto manufacturing companies who make close to $100,000 per year. You might not have...but they do. They also get bonuses each year at the holidays! Educators don't get bonuses!

    For the record, I didn't mean to disparage you or anyone who is "uneducated"...I don't disvalue any of your accomplishments or contributions. We all have important jobs, each vital. I didnt say you were "worthless"...I said the people I know and others make more money than they should doing that particular job. Again, we can debate this for days...but the reality is that the car industry overextended itself by paying it's employees way too much!

    The fact that you have been thru 2 factory closings in the last 21 years shows me that something isn't working is the auto industry.

    You can also argue that I was talking down to you by saying that they could fill a vacant position in an hour...we both know they could! I have a car factory in my town and when they have an open position, they have probably a 100 people apply! People drive from up to an hour away to work there! That's reality...it's not me talking down to you.

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    Elite Member RevellingInSane's Avatar
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    The US automakers have been warned for decades their financial mismanagement and substandard products would be the death of them.

    The unions were allowed to leverage high wages, expensive benefits, very lucrative pension and retirement packages, while the industry was steadily losing ground to the Japanese and Germans.

    The information regarding average UAW wages can be found on the UAW's own site. If the amounts are incorrect, the UAW itself is to be blamed.

    According to the site, the average assembly line person earned almost twenty-eight dollars per hour, including benefits. Skilled trades has it's own category and that average was over thirty-two dollars. For someone who could, quite possibly, have no education beyond high school, except on the job training, those costs to the companies are ridiculous.

    The UAW vampire has drained Detroit into ruin. If the industry wants a bailout, fine. The auto companies and the UAW would have to agree to some changes. First, those CEO's making huge paychecks while the companies lose money would be booted and replaced with salaried execs. Bonuses would not even be discussed unless the company turned a tidy profit and after payments were made to cover the government loan. No free money.

    The UAW's "demands" would be thrown out. Each job should be evaluated and the overblown wages brought down to comparable rates based on skills required and the cost of living in the area. No janitors would make twenty dollars an hour on my watch.

    If taxpayer money is going to be used to keep them afloat, taxpayers should be treated as stockholders and the government should not hand over a check with no contingencies.



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    Elite Member B.C.'s Avatar
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    Str8, the reason I went through 2 plant closings is because the companies were getting out of the parts business. A good move for the company but many have lost their jobs because of it.

    I read to much lately concerning the industry and most are down on the union. I think on GR it is different but I still feel the need to voice my opinion however wrong it might be.

    Ford has told us they will be adding shifts to plants, the overtime many get will be gone. It will save in overtime wages and keep people working. The UAW has made concessions in the last contract and probably will be making more in the near future. I have a plant to go to and will be going hopefully in March. I think about the others that don't and the effect it will have on the economy. I know how people want to work in the industry. I have a son I'd love to get a job, but it will be a long time before any hiring is done and when they hire they will make $15. not the wage we get now. I just lost my job/plant of 18 years and it isn't fun going through.

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    Elite Member Brookie's Avatar
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    As a Ford retiree, I can tell you that upper management wages are outrageously stupid. "Grunts", like I was, did not make anywhere close to their wages, and I have to supplement my "astronomical" pension with two part-time jobs. It sounds as if there's a certain perception out there that auto workers live the high life and don't, or shouldn't, have any financial concerns. The reality of it is that we have the same concerns as anybody else - particularly one called "will Ford be around as a viable manufacturer in the future?" The Big 3 and the UAW have made cuts, cuts, and more cuts - I have friends still at Ford and they're literally down to the bare nubs of enough people to get the job done. A friend of mine is a supervisor there, and she's currently having to do the work of (3) supervisors because there's more work than personnel available to do it. Are there improvements to be made? Hell yes. Please don't knock American auto workers though - concessions have been made by "Joe Six Pack"'s that the average person probably won't even hear about.

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    Elite Member RevellingInSane's Avatar
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    The cuts and concessions now are too little, too late. The effects of decades of greed can not be rectified with those now.

    While I feel for those who are jobless, or soon will be, this has been a long time coming. Even fifteen dollars per hour for an unskilled position is excessive.

    Every salary, from custodial to the highest levels of management, should be evaluated and adjusted. Regulations must be put in place to prevent this from happening again.



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