Words from an AAM Colfor worker
To the editor:
Well by now everyone in the Salem area heard the news about AAM Colfor will be closing the Salem operation in six months to a year. To those of us who had been around awhile it comes as no surprise. I'll will give you a little background to those who don't know too much about us. As for myself, I worked for the former Valley Forge now Colfor from 1975 to 1979, when there was only five presses and a few other machines and only about 15 employees. I returned to Valley Forge in 1996, 1998 we were purchased by Colfor and shortly afterwards were bought by AAM out of Michigan.
Now let me tell you a little about the people. In 1972, Valley Forge was started by a handful of partners led by Dan Swindell now past president and majority owner. Dan was quite a guy to work for, he worked hard and expected those who worked for him to do the same. For a plant manager he worked many seven days a week and 16 hour days and night, and many of us who worked with him did the same. The shop grew quickly and so did the people who worked there. A handful of people who started with me in 1975 or sooner never left there. They were pretty young; you might say they grew up there. Dave Baum, Jay Heestand and others now deceased or moved on. Dan also was assisted by his executive assistant, Glenda Worley, who passed away several years ago, but her daughter Missy, who was much like her mother, made the business what is today. When I left in 1979 there were about 60 employees. When I returned in 1996, there was around 250 employees and, wow, what an expansion. That was not all that changed. Dan didn't spend as much time in the plant as he had years past. To keep cost down he was now hiring through a temp service. I lost count how many came and gone in my first two years back. I sense a lot of resentment and frustration in the plant. Union organizing cards were circulating; a lot of frustration and anger was starting to surface.
In 1999, the UAW came into the scene. The Colfor purchase and AAM to follow and the union movement spread quickly to the two other Colfor plants in Minerva and Malvern. At the end of our first five-year contract we downsized in Salem below 150 and now are about 100 today. Currents average $14 to $20 an hour, paid insurance, paid vacations and holidays.
A couple of years ago AAM and the UAW were in contraction negotiations in which a NY forging plant and a plant in Detroit were idled and shut down during a bitter strike. Many felt the UAW International buckled under pressure to end the strike and sign a contract, with help from GM which gave AAM money to offer buyouts and shut down the two plants. A few longtime former employees told me Colfor better beware because AAM did it to them and it would happen to us and 2010 it happened just like they said! It so happens the same plant manager in the old NY plant is now Colfor's plant manger.
I can't tell you bad things are down in Colfor Salem now. On April 19, 2010, Peter Griffith announces during an emergency town hall, AAM will be closing Salem, and our jobs will be sent to Minerva and Malvern. It's my belief Salem was doomed to close from the minute AAM bought Colfor. Now all that is left is a morale broken and depressed work force waiting for the ax to fall! At one time I would match our crew against any in the whole AAM in North America which at one time boasted 16,000 employees. I'm willing to bet there may only be 6,000 left if we're lucky.
We did everything AAM asked us to do. But in the end there was not enough. Perhaps if our local government and chamber of commerce did some door-to-door to check on us, they might have found a solution to keep the Salem plant open either by tax breaks or something to offer as a way to keep us open. Not impressed on (Channel) 21 in Youngstown, Mayor Wolford said he would be in contact with AAM/ Colfor to see if there was anything the city could do. Well it's like the city to put a door on a barn after the animals got away. In reality there was only one person from local government to knock on our door and asked us if we needed anything. That was former Councilman Clyde Brown.
In closing, the city and other local government officials need to be more proactive on not only bringing new jobs in, but keeping the ones we have. We in Salem don't need our services reduced we need to reduce government, starting at the local level, such as a charter government in the city and perhaps the county. Take care and God bless!