BMW layoffs exemplify the evisceration of the middle class

Tuesday, July 5, 2011
By Paul Martin

Every working American should be dismayed by —
and afraid of — what BMW is doing.

By Michael Hiltzik

By all accounts, BMW’s parts distribution warehouse in Ontario was one of the jewels of the company’s system.
Supplying dealer service departments throughout Southern California, Arizona and Nevada, it received gold medals from BMW for its efficiency and employed several of the top-ranked workers in the country. In the roughly 40 years its workers had been represented by the Teamsters union, there had never been a labor stoppage.
Times being what they are, when a Teamsters committee came to the plant in early June to open negotiations over a new contract to start Sept. 1, they thought they might be asked to accept minuscule wage increases and maybe some givebacks on health coverage.

They were stunned by what they heard instead: As of Aug. 31, the plant would be outsourced to an unidentified third-party logistics company and all but three of its 71 employees laid off.

The union contract will be terminated. Some of the employees might be offered jobs with the new operator, but there are no guarantees. And no one expects the new bosses will match the existing $25 hourly scale or the health benefits provided now.

The average seniority of employees at Ontario is about 20 years; five have spent 30 years or more at Ontario or its predecessor warehouse in Carson. Of the employees to be laid off (according to a notice BMW sent the union), 27 are age 50 or older. The word that came most often to the lips of workers and their families I’ve talked to is “devastated.”

“The hardest thing I ever had to do in my life was to look my family in the eyes and tell them that after 32 years I’m out of a job,” says Tim Kitchen, who at 53 is the longest-serving employee at the warehouse. The esprit de corps that once prevailed in the warehouse is gone, he says. “You walk in there now, it’s like a morgue.” Early retirement isn’t an option; Kitchen still has two kids’ college educations to pay for.

Every working American should be dismayed by — and afraid of — what BMW is doing.

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