Syracuse Plant Closing Plan Models GM Goal to Match Workers With Jobs With BC-GM-UAW Jobs-Glance

DETROIT (AP) _ Nearly a year after General Motors Corp. said it would close its molded plastic parts plant in Syracuse, N.Y., you won't find many casualties on upstate New York unemployment lines.

More than nine of 10 Syracuse workers who wanted to keep working for GM have moved to other jobs at 16 different GM operations. Most of the rest have retired or will retire early with full benefits.

The Syracuse arrangement is a rough model of what GM wants written into the national contract the automaker is negotiating with the UAW.

''We had more job opportunities than employees to take them,'' said Jim Ciotti, president of United Auto Workers Local 854 in Syracuse.

GM marked Syracuse and eight other plants for closing last Dec. 3 as part of a downsizing that will claim at least 74,000 jobs by mid-1995. How did the company find work for so many people?

The automaker says it's been there all the time - if employees will move to take the jobs.

In the terms GM gave Local 854 at the Syracuse Inland Fisher Guide plant, the company expanded to 150 miles the distance that workers could be transferred to save their jobs. Previously, that distance was 50 miles.

That meant Syracuse workers could claim engine-building jobs at Tonawanda, N.Y., about 140 miles away. About 180 Syracuse workers who made injection- molded plastic parts for GM cars and vans now make engines at Tonawanda.

Several dozen Syracuse workers without other GM transfer options said ''no'' to moving to Tonawanda. If they don't reconsider, their GM jobless benefits will be cut off.

''We're at the end, the day of reckoning,'' Ciotti said Monday. ''In this day and age, you've got to live in reality.''

Reality for GM is a smaller but more efficient company. Along with the job cuts, the world's largest automaker is getting rid of 20 percent of its capacity - its underused factories.

The UAW might go along with a modified national relocation plan to save some jobs. But the union worries GM would abuse the right to move workers at will. In the past, it has hired laid-off workers from one plant only to furlough them at another.

''We're not going to send people all over the landscape,'' said a GM official close to the bargaining process who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ''It's going to have some sense to it.''

At Syracuse, Ciotti needed only to point to other area employers that had closed plants and offered no job options to workers.

''I don't think any one wanted to move, but with that many options, it made it that much easier,'' Ciotti said.

An early retirement program worked out earlier this year between GM and the union helped at Syracuse. About 500 workers were able to retire with full pensions and work elsewhere without having their earnings deducted from their GM pension draw.

Another 62 workers too young to retire in February or March were allowed to stay home and collect 85 percent of their pay from GM for two years and then retire at age 50.

''It's been going as good as a shut down could go,'' said Tom Fricano, the UAW regional director whose area includes New York and New Jersey. ''Most of them have got a job, they're making a living and they're still in the GM system.''