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Oracle of Delphi

As GM factory in Doraville closes, an era rolls away

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Later this week, the final vehicle will roll off the line at the last American auto assembly plant in Georgia.

Once that happens on Friday, production at the General Motors plant in Doraville will be over. So, too, will be Eddie Bailey Sr.’s automaking days, just 430 hours shy of 30 years — automatic retirement at GM.

As GM factory in Doraville closes, an era rolls away

“I can’t complain. It’s been a good living, even after always being on the edge,” said Bailey, who started as a line operator. “They raised my family and helped plan my future and retirement and paid for some of my education. I even got a granddaughter in college, and, through GM, I’m able to put money aside to help her.”

GM, which turned 100 last week, helped generations of autoworkers such as Bailey settle comfortably into a middle-class life. Come Friday, Bailey will have mostly memories, a decent retirement package and a black leather jacket to mark three decades of punching a time clock at the 61-year-old Doraville plant.

Until then, he and the other 1,000 or so workers — down from 3,100 a few years ago — have about 3,000 vehicles to complete by the time the plant closes.

“Looking at the schedule, that’s about 360 vans a day,” said Bailey, an ordained minister.

While the vans are headed to Canada, the future of many of the plant’s workers isn’t as clear. The closing couldn’t come at a worse time for many. Life in the auto industry is punctuated by ups and downs, but officials at the Detroit-based automaker concede this is the worst in GM’s century-old existence.

The economy is fragile. Wall Street is in chaos. Big lenders and investment houses are collapsing under a load of bad debt. Gas hovers at $4. (When the Doraville plant opened in 1947, gas cost about 15 cents.)

The plant’s demise “is the biggest thing that ever happened in our city,” Mayor Ray Jenkins said. “I just hope we’re prepared for it.”

Doraville officials are optimistic about the second life of the 165-acre property near Spaghetti Junction and a MARTA rail station.

“The town is ripe for redevelopment opportunities,” said Luke Howe, the mayor’s assistant. “We’re trying to create more revenue through development.”

City officials aren’t wasting time. They’re assembling a team of experts to help make the most of the redevelopment, which some envision will be a mixed-use destination like Atlantic Station. A city planner who will work with the redeveloper was hired last week. And the city’s attorney was also the city attorney in Hapeville, home of the former Ford Motor plant that closed in 2006 and is being redeveloped.

He was familiar with the things that are going to be coming up within the next few months, Jenkins said.

Four companies — News Broad Street Cos. of Orlando, Jacoby Development of Atlanta, the Sembler Co. of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Hines of Houston — are vying for the opportunity to remake the Doraville site, a former dairy farm and residential area.

The companies signed confidentiality agreements with GM and are prohibited from discussing their visions for the site. GM said it will pick a developer before the end of the year.

But for the current employees, there are two paths out of the plant. Regular GM workers, who now make up about a third of the plant’s 1,000 workers, have the option of moving to another GM plant, taking a buyout or waiting for a job in the company’s job bank. Bailey has opted to spend his 430 hours in GM’s job bank, which he sees as the bridge to full retirement.

Temporary workers, some of whom joined the plant to replace workers who left in a big wave a few years ago, aren’t so lucky.

“A lot of the temporary workers are — I don’t want to say upset — but they’re done with it,” said Sam Alston, a temporary worker who installs second- and third-row seats in the vans. “They’re not giving us severance packages or a chance to transfer. It was rough being a contract worker. We didn’t get any benefits. No vacation and our pay was less than the actual GM workers.”

Alston came in two years ago making $18 an hour and now makes $25 an hour. A full-time GM worker doing the same work earns about $30 an hour, Alston said. Many workers are just counting down the hours.

“It’s like a ‘fine-get-it-over-with mood,’ ” Alston said.

Difficult decision

Abandonment was inevitable. Even in the heyday of minivans, GM was overshadowed by Honda, Toyota and Chrysler.

“They just have no volume of sales,” said David Healy, auto analyst at Burnham Securities in Sierra Vista, Ariz. “They don’t have enough volume in that segment to be profitable. So they’re abandoning the plant basically.”

Now Americans’ taste for supersize SUVs and minivans is waning. The gas crisis has sharply changed the industry’s already gloomy outlook. GM doesn’t sugarcoat its problems.

“As we transform the company, we’ve had to make difficult decisions regarding plants, including Doraville,” spokesman Chris Lee said. “A lot of it’s product-driven. It has nothing to do with the work force or the community. It’s the product they built. Demand isn’t there, so we had to make tough decisions.”

This isn’t the first time GM had to make a tough decision affecting the metro area. In 1990, the company closed its Lakewood assembly plant. When Doraville is shuttered, Georgia will have to wait for the Kia plant in West Point, scheduled to open about a year from now, before getting back into the auto assembly business.

Final goodbyes

As workers poured out of the plant’s north entrance one afternoon last week, some seemed resigned to Friday’s closing.

“I don’t know about the last van rolling off the line. I don’t want to see it. I’m ready to get it over with,” said Reshonda Johnson, who does contract work as a logistics coordinator for Ryder, the trucking company. Johnson works at the auto plant ordering car parts and will get a severance package from Ryder.

Once she clocks out Friday, Johnson and her family will go to Gatlinburg, Tenn., for a vacation. “I need to ease my mind,” said Johnson, who has been at the plant nine years. “I enjoyed working there, until I heard they were throwing us away like we were nothing.”

Like Ryder, tire companies, truck and office equipment dealers, gas firms and other suppliers that have relied heavily on the automaker will be hit by the closing. So will the restaurants and convenience stores the GM employees frequented.

“It’s going to be slow,” said Gary Singh, who works at the Shell station down the street from the plant. “We got a lot of business from there.”

Retiree Ernest Jett was there when the first car rolled off the assembly line in 1947. Jett, then 23, started out stripping floors and cleaning the plant for $1.09 an hour. He finally got a job on the line in the paint shop.

“I was colorblind. But I never made a mistake painting,” Jett said proudly. “I followed the code: A was black. C was white.”

Friday, Jett will be on hand to see the last vehicle roll off the line. Last week, the World War II veteran – who landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on D-Day – sat in his living room showing visitors pictures of his days at the plant.

“In a way, it’s sad,” said Jett, who retired in 1990. “Why did they have to move out of Georgia?”



Most popular Doraville-produced cars

1947 Buick Super Woody

1951 Oldsmobile 88

1951 Buick Super 8 Special

1953 Buick Skylark

1955-57 Buick Century

1956 Olds Super 88 Convertible Coupe

1957 Pontiac Star Chief

1958 Pontiac Bonneville

1960 Oldsmobile Super 88

1965 Chevy Impala

1976 Chevy Monte Carlo

Source: General Motors



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Oh man the U-body vans are still in production?? The CSVs were one of GM's most disgraceful efforts of the 2000s.


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I transferred out of the Doraville plant (for Wilmington) exactly two years ago this morning. When I had started work there slightly more than four years ago, management was beginning implementation of GMS and slowly ramping-up production of the 210 crossover van. A stop-gap for the up and coming Lambdas.

I was awed by the history of the place. For the incoming transferees Doraville was at the time a sought-after location. The sheet metal stamping plant was (and still is until this Friday) a modern marvel.

I'd like to say hello to GM Doraville's Nino DiFiore from competitive engineering and my friend and former supervisor Don Singer. Good people.

I miss the local environs of Doraville, Dunwoody and Atlanta. Quite a cosmopolitan area. I lived just 2.1 miles from the plant in Metro Atlanta's Dunwoody suburb just 19 miles or so from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. I was homesick at first following my move down there, but I gradually warmed to the area and it to me. I was more or less accepted by the local citizens. There was friction as it applied to the new guy on the block but even that went away after a brief period.

In my time with General Motors I have been grateful for my job and I thank God for it every day. I think that I kept up my end of the bargain. Yet I saw many of the issues being debated and discussed on this site and others as it pertains to what 'ails' GM. I have my opinions and I'll just hold onto them for now. Sorry to see such a proud plant with its storied history winking out of existence.


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very sad indeed... the birthplace of the garnet red beauty in my sig... i have the plant marked on google earth for crying out loud. :cry:


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