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Local Delphi workers not comforted by word the plant will stay open

LOCKPORT -- Word that the Delphi plant in Lockport would be spared amid the chaos of bankruptcy proceedings brought little comfort Friday to workers there.

"I guess we should be happy they're not going to shut down the plant," said 28-year Delphi veteran Gary Krawczyk of Lancaster, "but that doesn't help the workers who are going to have their wages slashed or lose their jobs."

Workers' fears eased a little Friday after they learned the Delphi Thermal Systems plant was not among 21 targeted to close. But their relief was tempered by the unresolved issues of layoffs, and reduced pay and benefits.

The company wants to cut wages from $27 an hour to $22 in the first year and down to $16 in the second year. Several of the buildings in the sprawling Upper Mountain Road complex will be closed to consolidate the operation and cut the work force.

"The reality of the situation is that half as many workers will be earning half as much money," said John M. Lunghino, a financial adviser who is helping employees plan for the future. "The Lockport plant will still be standing, but the remaining employees won't be able to afford to work there.

"Lockport may have won a battle today, but the workers may lose the war."

If a federal judge throws out the worker benefits package next month, "we could be looking at a strike," said a worried Dan Donovan, a 29-year Delphi veteran who lives in Niagara Falls.

Donovan also is angry that the company wants to cut vacation time. "They want us to use the Fourth of July as a vacation day," he said as he downed a pint of beer in Ritts tavern opposite the plant.

Donovan could take his 30-and-out retirement package next year, but he said he's not ready to retire at age 50. "I've got a family and a mortgage," he said. "I'm not done earning a living, not by a long shot."

Neither is Krawczyk, 52. "I've got a wife and two kids at Buff State," he said. "I'm getting things paid off and everything was going to fall in place in due time, but not yet. Now's not the time."

Krawczyk said he sees a bleak scenario playing out in the near future. "Regardless of this decision today and whatever they decide to do about the wages and benefits, I see it all amounting to nothing in the long run," he said. "They're going to move everything down to Mexico anyway. They may do it one piece at a time, but the plant will be history."

Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker, who has worked at the Delphi plant for 28 years, put a more positive spin on the announcement. "This is a great day for the City of Lockport and for the Buffalo Niagara region," he said. "It's a day we've all been hoping for; the plant can stay here a long time."

The decision to keep the plant open answered the prayers of Richard Cooper, a retired 31-year GM veteran from Alden. Cooper has been holding a one-man vigil outside the factory the past 44 days, as the Delphi drama continued to unfold, and Friday he felt triumphant.

"I prayed for this place," he said, waving a U.S. flag as passing motorists honked horns in support. "I know there's still a lot of anxiety, but everything takes time. I tell workers to be patient and keep the faith."

Kathleen Huber of Gasport was also waving a U.S. flag in victory across the street from the plant.

"My husband and son are in there right now, working to put food on the table and heat in the house," she said. "Of course they're worried about wages. Who wants to go from $27 an hour to $15.50? But the plant is staying open. That's a huge step forward."

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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