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.