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GM Closes 70-Year-Old Detroit Cadillac Plant

December 17, 1987 GMT

DETROIT (AP) _ General Motors Corp.’s 70-year-old Fleetwood Cadillac plant, a one-time World War I plane factory that later built America’s premier car, is now a relic of history, its 1,500 workers out of jobs.

The 70-year-old plant built its last Brougham body Wednesday, about six months after an initial round of layoffs claimed 3,000 jobs. Another 1,500 GM workers will be laid off Friday, when the partner Clark Street plant that mates the Fleetwood bodies to Cadillac chassis shuts down.

Among them were assemblers like Phyllis Burns, 32, who wept when she left the Fleetwood plant for the last time Wednesday.

″That’s my whole life. That’s my adulthood in there,″ the 12-year GM worker said.

″There were people who couldn’t open their mouths to speak,″ Burns said, describing the moment the last car body that came down the line. ″There was nothing to say. You just looked and stared.″

Others, such as Cassie Bass, were more vocal. Bass joined about 40 other members of Local 15 of the United Auto Workers union who gathered outside the plant, chanting and carrying signs protesting the closing.

″I’m out here because GM gave us the shaft,″ said Bass, 36, who was with her 4-year-old son. ″I’ve worked for GM on and off for 10 years. I’ve got four kids to support. What am I going to support them with now? Welfare?″

″Everyone will be unemployed. There’s no protection because we have no job to go to,″ said Danny Moore, a Local 15 official.

Factory workers with 10 years of seniority will be eligible for unemployment payments and union benefit checks providing 90 percent of their take-home pay for up to 18 months. Some employees took a buyout from GM amounting to $40,000 for a 10-year worker, but, in turn, sacrificed long-term benefits.

GM had built a replacement front-wheel-drive Cadillac plant in Hamtramck. But the rear-wheel-drive Fleetwood’s continuing popularity kept the aging, outmoded Fleetwood and Clark Street plants operating until this week, more than a year after GM said they would close.

GM now will build the Fleetwood in Arlington, Texas. That, and the yellow roses that Fleetwood plant supervisors handed out Wednesday to female employees, struck an ironic note for some.

″It’s the yellow rose of Texas,″ said Alana Rodriguez, 41, an assembler. ″That’s where our jobs are going.″

The Arlington plant also will build two other rear-wheel-drive models, the Chevrolet Caprice and Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon.

Neither the Arlington nor the Hamtramck plant can take worker transfers since both have a shift of workers on layoff and are working only one shift.

Fleetwood and Clark were once thought to be among GM’s most secure plants because they built Cadillacs, the status car in the United States until the 1970s.

The Fleetwood plant produced World War I warplanes when it opened. In 1919, it was bought by the Fisher brothers, who built auto bodies and erected the main six-story building in 1922.

Fisher Brothers, which became a GM division in 1926, bought Fleetwood Custom Body Co. of Fleetwood, Pa., in 1925 and moved the operation to the Detroit plant, which they renamed Fleetwood.

Fleetwood built bodies for the LaSalle from 1926 to 1940 and all Cadillac bodies until the late 1960s.

Like the other GM assembly plants that have closed, one Fleetwood and one Clark Street worker won the last two cars at their plants in a drawing.

The winners may be among a very few GM workers to disprove the 1985 song ″C-I-T-Y″ by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, one of several that have mentioned the Fleetwood plant:

″On the south side of Detroit City I’m working all night on the line. Under black smoke stacks building Cadillac, Jack. Not one of them will ever be mine.″