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General Motors Corp. says it has eliminated more than 4,400 white-collar contract jobs in just over two years, or more than one-third of its contract workforce, as part of its ongoing cost-cutting efforts.

Many of those contractors did design and engineering work at GM's vast Warren Technical Center. The cuts often go unreported or unnoticed because they come in small bursts of five contractors in one area or 10 in another.

Such layoffs, which often occur with little warning, are another weight on the minds of auto-industry contract workers, many of whom saw their wages cut in 2001 and have gotten no raises since.

"With contract workers, they come in when they are needed or their skills are needed. But when those needs go away, we reduce the number we need," said GM spokesman Kerry Christopher.

He said GM now has about 7,500 contract workers, down from 12,000 at the end of 2001.

Workers estimate GM has eliminated about 300 contractors this year. Christopher acknowledges that the cuts are continuing but says fewer than 150 jobs have been eliminated in 2004.

Some of GM's most recent contractor cuts put the automaker at the center of a brewing political controversy. Some computer-based work previously done by U.S. contractors -- such as design or engineering support -- has been shipped to a new GM research lab in India.

GM spokespeople would not say how many jobs or how much work was going to its tech center in Bangalore, which opened in September.

"We were pulled from our projects and told to tie them up because they were going to India. I guess they found someone who could do it for one-tenth of my salary," said Glenn Evans, who'd worked four years at GM, illustrating product manuals online for the automaker. Evans, 41, says he lost his $20-an-hour job in mid-January with four other contract illustrators.

Contract workers are temporary white-collar workers hired by outside employment agencies. They can handle duties ranging from secretarial to engineering. Though they work inside a company, often for years at a time, they are not permanent employees and don't get paid as much as company employees.

When their contracts end, those workers rarely get severance pay, and the employment agencies they work for usually don't pay them until new work is found.

Besides cutting contractors, all of Detroit's automakers have been trimming their U.S. workforces, both hourly and salaried.

GM has eliminated about 8,000 permanent, white-collar jobs since 2001, dropping U.S. salaried employment from 57,000 to 49,000.

Ford, which has also rountinely sliced its contractor workforce, trimmed about 2,000 more salaried workers last year. DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group has cut thousands of salaried workers the last few years as well.

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