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Nearly 600 workers leaving American Axle plants in area Severance bonuses worth up to $100,000

Nearly 600 area workers at American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. have opted to take severance bonuses and leave their jobs, a union official said, adding to an exodus of workers from the region's auto plants.

The Detroit-based manufacturer employs about 2,000 people at its three area plants in Buffalo, Cheektowaga and the Town of Tonawanda. About 1,750 of them are United Auto Workers members eligible for the incentives that were announced in October.

American Axle offered most of its U.S. production workers up to $100,000 before taxes to quit or retire. The package of offers closed Thursday; however, workers have seven days to reconsider.

If the number of departures holds firm, the downsizing will more than erase a surplus of workers at the Buffalo Gear and Axle plant on East Delavan Avenue, according to union sources. The plant has close to 400 workers on layoff.

However, it remains unclear if the factory, which is running below its capacity, will stay open after a freeze on plant closings expires in early 2008.

"The union is working diligently to ensure that plant has a future," UAW Assistant Region 9 Director Kevin Donovan said.

According to a UAW source, the union has negotiated a cost-cutting agreement governing the plant that is awaiting a vote by members. The Delavan plant missed out on an axle for Chevrolet's new Camaro in September and faces declining work for General Motors' SUVs.

The incentive package included a $50,000 bonus for retirement-eligible workers, $70,000 to $100,000 for workers short of retirement, or $30,000 for certain workers at the Cheektowaga plant. Some workers would be eligible for a retraining incentive with two to four years of tuition and living expenses.

Machinists union members aren't eligible for the package.

American Axle is the fourth auto part maker to cut its local work force with severance bonuses this year. Ford, Delphi and General Motors have collected the resignations of nearly 2,500 local workers, most of whom will punch out early in 2007.

At Delphi, 900 lower-paid workers have been hired to replace the departing workers, reducing the net loss of jobs.

Spun-off by GM's Saginaw division in 1994, American Axle & Manufacturing makes rear axles, gears and other parts for pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles. GM accounts for three-quarters of its sales.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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