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Workers: Pay loss painful: Cummins employees worried about living on 20 percent less

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Some Cummins employees gathered at the Diesel Workers Union hall Friday morning to say they could not make ends meet with a 20 percent pay cut.

The company announced Thursday that, in response to weakening global economic conditions, 350 of 512 Diesel Workers Union members at Columbus Fuel Systems Plant would go to four-day workweeks until further notice.

The company also has reduced the workweek at plants in Jamestown, N.Y., and in Brazil.

When Cummins announced a worldwide hiring freeze about a year ago, spokeswoman Carole Casto said global employment was about 46,200, a record.

The Fuel Systems Plant, at 1300 N. Marr Road, ships about 70 percent of its products to other Cummins plants. That means if production at those plants slows, demand for fuel systems declines, too. The Jamestown plant, for example, produces heavy-duty engines, which use the XPI Fuel System, components for which are made at the Columbus Fuel Systems Plant.

“We can’t live on 32 hours a week, and we don’t know what to do,” said Richa Gordon, who has worked as a machinist at the Fuel Systems Plant for five years.

“I love my job,” she said. But as the sole income earner in her household of five, which includes a disabled husband and children ages 13, 10 and 9, a four-day workweek will not bring in enough money to pay the bills. The stress has kept her awake at night with worry.

“We just need 40 hours a week to support our family,” she said.

The company said in a statement Thursday that it was aligning its costs with decreasing demand and that it was reducing the workweek to minimize the impact on employees.

The company reported a slight sales decline in the second quarter and has taken other steps in response to slowing demand, including instituting a global hiring freeze through at least the end of the year.

About two dozen DWU members met with union leaders Friday morning to talk about their options.

Gordon said she would prefer being laid off, because she gets more money on unemployment than on a three- or four-day workweek.

Trent Rice, who has worked at the plant since 2004, said getting by on 40 hours a week is difficult enough.

“Thirty-two is definitely not doable,” he said.

He, too, is the sole income-earner in his household, supporting two children younger than 10, paying a mortgage and car payment and battling rising prices for groceries and gasoline.

Cummins is “the best place I’ve ever worked,” he said, “(but) I’m definitely going to be looking for a part-time job.”

Union Secretary/Treasurer Tammi Reinbold said that while some members would prefer the company to adjust production through layoffs, other union members would prefer to hold on to a smaller paycheck, and, more importantly, health insurance, which they would lose if they were laid off.

Gordon said, however, that if a smaller paycheck makes you face foreclosure, health insurance does not mean very much.

Gordon and Rice also wondered whether the company could make other adjustments, such as cutting temporary positions, to avoid cutting hours for union members.

Reinbold said that although the company has temporary workers at other south-central Indiana plants, the company cannot simply fire the temporary workers and move union members into those jobs.

Different plants are covered by different contracts, she said. That means, for example, that Fuel Systems Plant workers have to be laid off before they are considered for openings at other plants — and even then they are not guaranteed those positions, because other laid-off union members might have greater seniority and be offered those jobs first.

Reinbold, a third-generation Cummins employee who has worked at the Columbus MidRange Engine Plant, near Walesboro, for 15 years, said she understands her union brethren’s frustrations.

“I don’t blame them,” she said. “I’d be upset.”

More shutdowns are coming, though. The company’s Seymour operations will cease production all next week — though that has been planned for months, Reinbold said, as the company makes some adjustments for production of the new 95-liter Hedgehog engine.

As union members filed out of the union hall Friday, 39-year Cummins veteran Johnny Perez tried to cheer up some of his younger co-workers, though he, too, would feel the effects of the four-day workweek. His wife cannot work because of heart problems, he said.

“This has happened to me before. You just try to work through it,” he said, as other union members listened nearby. Cummins has “been good for me and my family,” he said. “They will work this out.”

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