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Self-inflicted wounds Lopsided vote against Delphi contract could threaten Lockport plant survival

Sometimes it just feels good to do something dumb, even if it's self-defeating. We're all subject to the same human emotions -- pride, stubbornness, fear, anger -- and sometimes, especially under pressure, they get the better of us.

That's the best explanation we can think of for the disastrous and lopsided vote by the United Auto Workers at Delphi Corp. in Lockport, to reject a national wage-cutting plan that was designed, in part, to keep their plant operating. Nationally, 68 percent of affected UAW members approved the plan, while a stunning 80 percent of voting members in Lockport rejected it.

The immediate consequence is to cast plant workers into the worst of all possible worlds. The wage cuts are coming, since the plan was approved overall, but Delphi management now says it has lost faith in Lockport workers' commitment to creating the kind of efficiencies still needed to make the operation profitable.

The implicit threat, easy to understand and easy to accomplish, is for Delphi to send Lockport's work to a different plant, putting 2,200 people out of work in Western New York.

More bluntly, with their vote workers declared that they would rather lose their jobs than acknowledge the reality of corporate bankruptcy. They now stand in grave danger of realizing their wish.

And it's not only they who may lose. The Delphi plant has a huge economic impact on the community, creating or supporting eight jobs for every one in the plant. Closure would reverberate throughout the region, affecting just about everyone in some way, including the families and friends of the union workers whose wrong-headed decision brought it on.

Now it's time to make the best of bad circumstances. With wage cuts approved, each plant must next craft a plan that streamlines its own operations, including work rules whose revision must be approved by local members.

Lockport workers must now understand that this is real; that their union leaders were right when they affirmed that the company's finances truly are dire and encouraged them to approve the new contract. If they are going to begin the difficult job of regaining the company's confidence, they need to craft and approve plant efficiencies that stand to overcome the presumption that they aren't serious.

No one is happy about wage cuts, especially when they are on the order of 40 percent for senior, high-wage production workers. They are a kick in the stomach to every worker they affect and to the merchants who benefit from those paychecks.

But that fight is over. The cuts are coming. The only question now is if any workers will remain at the Lockport plant to continue to pay at all. The answer is largely in their hands.

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