By Boris Ladwig, The Republic

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   An auto parts manufacturer with about 500 employees will close its plant on 17th Street unless union members agree to a 5 percent pay cut and other concessions, a union official said.

    Columbus Components Group, which operates a former Arvin plant, on Monday sent a letter to employees warning of a potential plant shutdown beginning March 1.

    The plant stamps parts for automotive companies, including EMCON Technologies, TRW Automotive and Cummins Inc. 

    Jerry Wagner, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1424, said the recession and resulting slow auto sales have affected suppliers, including CCG.
"Nobody's buying cars," he said. 

    Until now, CCG has lowered its costs through 1- to 2-month voluntary and forced layoffs of about 60 people. 

    "It's not really enough right now," Wagner said. "It's sad to say, but it's reality." 

    In the letter, CCG President Richard Holmes wrote, "Out of an abundance of precaution, and due to unexpected and unforeseeable recent business events, CCG is providing this contingent notice of the possibility of the closing of the facility. 

    Unless negotiations with the union produce an agreement that will allow the plant to stay open, "the facility may close as early as the two-week period beginning on March 1 ... (and) this plant closing will be permanent." 

    Wagner said the company is asking union members to agree to a 5 percent pay cut, which would reduce the lowest hourly wage to $13.35. 

    Employees also would lose their 401(k) match this year and see some health benefit changes, which, Wagner said, would be revealed Thursday when union leaders again meet with company officials. 

    Wagner said the plant's roughly 360 union members are expected to vote on the proposal Monday. The plant also employs about 100 non-union workers and some salaried staff.

Dilemma 

    Wagner said he talked to a lot of disgruntled employees Tuesday, but he said he thinks once people think about the proposal they will find it much more palatable than the alternative: losing their jobs in a tough economy. 

    ArvinMeritor sold the plant in late 2004 to three Cleveland-based investors, who had bought eight automotive-related companies in the three previous years. They renamed the local plant Columbus Components Group. 

    Wagner said about 20 percent of the employees had been hired after the sale. Most of the rest have worked there 20 to 30 years. 

    Wagner, an automotive press operator and Brown County native who lives in Jennings County, has worked there 35 years. He remembers when the plant made parts for phones, microwave ovens and coffins. 

    CCG has filed notification under Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires that companies inform employers and communities about plant closings and mass layoffs 60 days before they occur. 

    Wagner said that if union members agree to the concessions, CCG would cancel the WARN filing, though he said that would not guarantee the plant continues to operate in the long term. 

    The company might issue another such notification in two or three months if the economy deteriorates further, although, Wagner said, company officials have said they expect more business for the second half of the year. 

    For now, company officials plan to give employees 2.5 percent raises in 2010 and contribute to their retirement plan, Wagner said. 

    "We're doing everything we can to keep the jobs in Columbus," he said. 

    Mayor Fred Armstrong said that "to lose (just) one job hurts." 

    However, he said CCG's announcement reflects a global weakness in the automotive industry. 

    He warned that more news like this would come, underlining the need for a federal stimulus package. 

    Columbus Components Group could not be reached.

Reporter Paul Minnis contributed to this article.

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