ROADS OUT OF NIAGARA

n ED PIETROWSKI: Hired by General Motors in 1981; Delphi was spun off on 1999, family began discussing possibility of a move; After a year in bankruptcy, he agreed to a transfer to Bowling Green, Ky.

n MELANIE PIETROWSKI: Hired by Delphi in 1999; Injured on the job and took buyout offer to return to school and finish her degree; will accompany husband once their Newfane home sells

n TONY MITRAVICH: In 2002 his father transferred to West Virginia; Age 16, he is a Newfane junior; Started talking with his mother Melanie about moving last year; Will finish high school in Kentucky



By Eric DuVall

duvalle@gnnewspaper.com

He came to a union meeting with a T-shirt reading “keep our jobs here.”

Nine months later, that sentiment is a distant memory.

After 25 years of going to work at Delphi, Ed Pietrowski is living like a 48-year-old college student, and that’s not a good thing.

His grown-up children have moved out. His wife and her teenage son are back at home. And he’s living 700 miles away in a two-bedroom apartment with a stranger he met through the classifieds.

He’ll tell you it was a difficult decision, but when the couple’s mutual employer Delphi went bankrupt, they and thousands like them were forced to make life-altering decisions nearly at the drop of a hat.

“It’s hard, waking up in a different place,” he said. “It’s not an easy transition. I thought it would be easier to move. Everything, your whole life changes.”

Pietrowski left behind the home he and wife Melanie had worked for years to remodel and that was finally completed — a week before he received a transfer to Bowling Green, Ky.

In the year after Delphi filed for Chapter 11, the company offered buyouts, retirement incentives and transfer opportunities to every one of its 24,000 American union employees. A majority took them up on one or another of the offers. Pietrowski now works at a General Motors plant that makes 170 Chevrolet Corvettes a day.

It’s a far cry from Newfane, his former home.

“Everybody you work with (here) are transplants,” he said. “Never in a million years, with 25 years seniority, do you think you would have to move.”

One other person from Lockport made the move as well, Pietrowski said. But, like many locations south of here, he’s been able to locate other transplants. A Buffalo Wild Wings plays host to a crew of ex-Western New Yorkers who gather to watch Bills games as a reminder of home.

The family has plans to reunite in Kentucky soon. They’re closing on a house there next week, though their Newfane home hasn’t sold yet, which is holding up the move.

For husband, wife and son, resentment lingers as they say good-bye to their friends, extended family and log cabin house. If Ed’s first weeks there are any indication, they could have bluer pastures in store — in more ways than one.

“You have your good days where you’re happy to be here,” he said, admitting it’s a nice area. “Then you have your days where you’re homesick. Being away from your family is the hardest part. ... Lockport, Western New York will always be my home.”

None of the them are entirely sure what the last few years of Ed’s working life will entail, or where they’ll wind up once he’s through with GM.

“He’s hoping he gets to finish, get his retirement there,” Melanie said. “But I don’t know if you even say that now. We just want to get some place where he can at least finish out his time. I guess we’ll have to see what happens down the road.”

Pietrowski is five years short of 30, the number necessary to qualify for a GM pension. He was one of 200 in Lockport who took a “flowback” position from Delphi to its former parent company. It was one of several options presented to workers, to return to their former employer, seen by many workers as a safer bet than Delphi.

So what caused him to uproot life? Fear over the auto industry’s future in Niagara County.

He had the chance to remain in Western New York. His seniority afforded him the opportunity to take a position at GM’s Tonawanda engine plant. But that carried too much of a risk, he said.

“Tonawanda is a component plant also, like American Axle or Delphi,” he explains. “I just didn’t want to go through this again.”

Bowling Green is a vehicle assembly plant and that puts it in a different class, one that, given its elite product, is more crucial to the company and less likely to see cuts, or worse, a closing. Pietrowski said the management there runs a much tighter ship than does Delphi in Lockport.

The atmosphere there is better, too, he said.

“It’s just run very efficient,” Pietrowski said. “Lockport has a long way to go to become efficient. Basically, they work together here pretty good. It was really kind of refreshing not to have to listen to the doom and gloom all the time.”

While the couple has made the decision based on the family’s financial realities, Melanie realizes it can be difficult for her son, Tony Mitravich. A Newfane junior, she acknowledges that at his age, “school is their whole life.”

This, however, isn’t the teen’s first brush with family moving away. Dad, also a former Delphi worker, left the area for a West Virginia plant four years ago. That plant closed and he’s since moved again, this time to Michigan. While Mitravich said the pending move “honestly, doesn’t bother (him),” there are plenty more kids he knows that are facing the same dilemma.

“I know at least 20 or 30 kids like me who are in the same situation, whose parents are in the same situation,” he said. “There’s a kid in my math class ... his parents are in the same boat.”

The 16-year-old has had to absorb some heady stuff in preparing for the move with his mother. The family has discussed for years the possibility that work might force them to relocate. The teen seems to have an understanding of the economic forces driving the move, or at least the impression one might get while packing a life into boxes.

“When you’re the kid of a blue collar family and you’ve just got to work for a living ... as long as you have a roof over your head, you’re happy,” he said. “You have to get used to change. (The companies) always want something different from their workers.”

Contact Eric DuVall at 282-2311, Ext. 2251.

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