NUMMI workers faced with uncertainty

December 22, 2009 10:21:49 PM PST
The chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority is suggesting that rail cars be built there when NUMMI stops making automobiles in March.

There are some signs of the economy improving, but still this is one of the worst recessions in recent years, and 4,500 workers at the NUMMI plant are just three months away from getting their walking papers.

At the Auto Workers Union headquarters in Fremont, workers are talking a lot about what's next.

"It is so hard we're already doing this work here why can't they place us in something that we already do?" asked NUMMI employee Joe Silvera.

At 40 years old, Silvera isn't sure what he can do to earn a living, when the plant NUMMI plant closes March 31st.

Silvera doesn't want to go back to hanging dry wall even if he could find that job.

Classrooms at Ohlone College's Newark campus are being set up to retrain workers. But Ron Lopez doesn't think retraining is going to help him. He's in his 50s and so is his wife Barbara. They both work at NUMMI.

"You know and that's what I'm asking him, what's the percentage for job placements for people over 50?" asked Lopez.

Lopez and Silvera figure Anthony Oliveri has the best shot. Oliveri is still in his 30s, but he too, is worried.

"It's going to be hard because I got a learning disability. I got hired from James Logan High School in 1991 to keep my nose clean," said Olivieri.

Oliveri went directly from his special education class at James Logan High School to the paint department at NUMMI.

"In Special Ed. class they got me the job. Can I do it? Yes I could, can I pass the reading and writing test it's very hard and no I didn't," he said.

But thanks to a state program he got the job. That was 18 years ago.

"I'm 37 the program expires when you're 25, so I'm stressed out with my family," he said.

Married now with a 14-month-old daughter, Oliveri is a skilled employee, a team leader in the paint department.

"You got to have a trained eye to see the defects. If you are a normal looking person you'd miss 80 percent of the defect on the car," he said.

He'd love to find a job working in a body shop, but times have changed.

"It's not like the old days like my dad said, 'Lose a job go across the street, get another paying job.' No more, nothing here anymore and everything is leaving the state or the country," he said.

The Federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Program is offering help, including subsidies for health insurance, job training, job search and relocation assistance.

Workers at the plant are hoping for a lot more they'd like to be building cars, whether it's Toyotas or the high speed railroad cars that Quintin Kopp plans to propose at next month's meeting of the High Speed Rail Authority.


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