Longtime Janesville worker threatened

Norwalk plant worker says he faces discipline, possible firing over display of unhappiness.
Melissa Topey
Oct 13, 2013
A Janesville Acoustics employee who displayed his unhappiness with General Motors says he was threatened with discipline and possible firing.

Kevin Fenwick, an 18-year employee at the plant, thought he would work for the factory for many more years.

Then, in August, plant executives suddenly announced they were closing the plant at the end of 2014 to move closer to customers in the automotive industry. About 290 people will lose their jobs.

Janesville executives asked their employees for one last act of loyalty — they needed them to continue working during the transition.    General Motors is one of the larger contracts held by Janesville Acoustics, union officials said. Employees said they feel the auto manufacturer has a big influence on the move.

When Janesville employees heard GM officials would be at the plant beginning Wednesday, they figured it was time to be heard. Aiming to express their hurt and frustration about the pending move, about eight employees on the factory floor that day wore handmade badges with the letters “GM” scribbled inside a circle with a slash through it.

“Management told us to take them off or get disciplined and possibly fired,” Fenwick said. “They told us we have to support GM because GM supports Janesville.”

Fenwick and the others took off the badges.

The following morning, on a public street in front of the Janesville plant, Fenwick parked his car and outfitted it with an enormous anti-GM sign. He then went inside to work.

Over the plant’s intercom, he heard a page for the shift manager and then for the union representative. Fenwick was then paged to the plant office. He was told the company would have his car towed if he didn’t move it and remove the sign.

“I told them I was not breaking any law,” Fenwick said.

Norwalk police were called to the scene, and the officer who arrived quickly determined Fenwick was not violating any laws.

So, the car stayed.

And for his part, Fenwick said he told the company’s leaders he would not be threatened or intimidated. He went back to work.

“They are sucking the life out of us employees,” Fenwick said. “They are sucking the life out of the community. I got support from other employees who feel exploited. They shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you.’”

Janesville Acoustics officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Comments

justspoutingoff

How's about GM offering the Janesville workers jobs ? If these men and women supported Janesville for 20 plus years it would seem that GM would step up and do the "right" thing. But instead these workers are being bent over. They are being treated badly and talked down to each day. It really is a shame that after all these years people are treated like dirt. I wish all the workers the best and hope that you all are able to find jobs. It's all about the all mighty dollar anymore.

Whoopball

I completely understand the anger and frustration the Mr. Fenwick is expressing and I'm sure he is acting out what many more are feeling. They are getting a raw deal from a company that has been in Norwalk since 1881 and has never done anything that wasn't in the pure self interest of the corporation. That being said, I would suggest that the best interest of the workers, and the company run parallel in this regard. A peaceful and quiet exit may help JA with customer relations, but it may also help the workers find new jobs in the future. Companies looking to relocate do things like read the papers in the areas they are investigating. If they perceive our area to be a hot bed of radical union unrest they will avoid us no matter how aggressive we are with tax breaks and cheap buildings. Mr. Fenwick consider your actions and their effects. Will they change JA's plans or will they just reduce your and your coworkers' chance of finding new work?

Whoopball

double post

2Timothy1-7

He's lucky he didn't criticize a retired judge or local blogger/pundit concerning public affairs and government actions.

SamAdams

I think it's past time to note that ALL businesses are in business for one reason and one reason only: To make money. To suggest that the powers that be at Janesville or the corporate bigwigs at GM are "in it for the money" isn't an insult (or it shouldn't be). It's a simple fact, and one that makes perfect sense.

When companies stop making money, they take steps to increase their bottom line. That happens to be true for union and non-union shops alike. In some cases, unions have hastened their own jobs' demise, but the bottom line is ALWAYS the bottom line.

To suggest that companies are in business to take care of their employees is progressive propaganda at its worst. They're not. Yes, treating employees well helps you keep the best employees (which is worth the investment in almost every case). And of COURSE employees shouldn't be subject to dangerous working conditions. But beyond that, the math is pretty simple. Employees trade their time and their expertise for a paycheck. Employers trade their money for the labor of their employees. That's it. If the trade becomes too inequitable for ANY reason, this is what happens. Don't employees quit when they're mistreated or paid inadequately? Then why shouldn't employers change things when THEY'RE mistreated or profiting inadequately?

Whoopball

Sam, Those are cold hard truths that many people don't grasp. You did present this as a bilateral arrangement which isn't quite accurate. In union shops such as JA the workers pay a significant sum, automatically deducted from their paychecks, under the delusion that the union somehow protects their jobs. When they don't, the union has to gin up resentment to divert attention from themselves. All too often the only real agenda of union officials is to negotiate job descriptions and work rules which artificially inflate the number of required workers. This creates more dues for them but actually makes the company less competitive and hastens management decisions to become more efficient.

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