General Motors issues Flint Truck Assembly Plant ultimatum

General Motors issues Flint Truck Assembly Plant ultimatum

Posted by Ron Fonger | The Flint Journal February 13, 2009 08:51AM

Thomas Simonetti | Flint Journal filesGeneral Motors is giving workers at the Flint Truck Assembly Plant 30 days to approve a new local contract with concessions that include cuts in overtime.

FLINT, Michigan — Union leaders say General Motors has spelled out the future for the Flint Truck Assembly Plant in the clearest possible terms:

Approve a new local contract aimed at cutting overtime and other costs within 30 days — or risk closing.  

UAW Local 598 Shop Chairman Mark Hawkins announced the grim news to employees Thursday, and the ultimatum didn’t sit well with some. 

"I’ve taken about a 50 percent wage cut," said Chad Fabbro, 34, of Vassar. "I can’t personally give any more." 

GM earlier this week delivered the notice that forces a do-or-die vote of the plant’s 2,010 hourly workers on a new local contract aimed at cutting overtime and other costs. 

A source familiar with GM’s proposed changes said they included a loosening of language that could allow more in-plant work by outside contractors, a lower ratio of skilled trades to production workers, and cuts in overtime tied to the plant’s use of a four-day work week. 

"They told us in very specific terms what their expectations are," said Local 598 Shop Chairman Mark Hawkins. "I don’t think people understand the consequences of turning this down yet."

Flint Journal extras About Flint Truck Assembly Plant

• Location: 3100 Van Slyke Road, Flint

• Workers: About 2,205 hourly and salaried employees.

• Union: UAW Local 598

• Size: 3.7 million square feet.

• Products: Heavy-duty Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra crew cab trucks and medium-duty commercial trucks.

• History: The plant opened in 1947 and has been known as the Truck & Bus Group Flint Assembly Plant and Chevrolet Flint Truck Plant.  

Local 598 has scheduled an informational meeting on the new contract and the future of the truck plant for employees from 3-5 p.m. Sunday at Whiting Auditorium. 

"We are inviting everyone in our work force, hourly and salary, and their families who are concerned about the future of Flint Assembly," a flier distributed in the plant Thursday said. 

Truck plant worker Timothy R. Hatter of Flint Township said workers have to consider the overall economy as they decide what to do. 

"It’s a bad time all over the world," said Hatter, 48. "The truck plant is just lucky to be rolling. I got to do what I got to do (with concessions)." 

Hawkins said the company has greater leverage in negotiating today than it did just a few years ago because of the poor economy and high unemployment. 

"We could not have negotiated our current contract in today’s environment," he said. "Our leverage has deteriorated to a point that it’s almost nonexistent." 

Flint Truck is this area’s largest GM facility and last assembly plant. The union and the company have been at odds over the local contract since at least early last year, when the UAW warned GM that workers could strike if a local operating agreement wasn’t reached within 10 days. 

Now it’s GM — struggling just to operate without going bankrupt — getting impatient. 

GM spokesman Tony Sapienza said today that GM "regularly has conversations with all our plants about becoming more competitive and more efficient." 

Sapienza would not comment on specifics of the discussions at Flint Truck. 

But union officials said GM sent Timothy Lee, vice president for manufacturing, here this week with specific demands and a 30-day deadline. 

Hawkins said he supports a new local contract even if it includes concessions that GM is seeking and even though he doesn’t like the company’s get-tough attitude. 

"We’re extremely confident we’ll be able to get this resolved," he said. 

But Hawkins called GM’s negotiating approach "an insult" and said union leaders were left with the impression that "if we didn’t do this we wouldn’t like the outlook." 

The shop chairman called those concessions significant but said he could not immediately discuss them. 

Fabbro, who works on the plant’s medium-duty line that builds the Chevrolet Kodiak and GMC Topkick, said he received a text message alert on his cellphone about midday Thursday about the plant news. 

"Everyone’s walking around kind of shocked," he said about an hour later. 

Fabbrosaid he’s worked eight years for GM and already has seen his wages drop considerably from 2007 to 2008 with losses of overtime and increasing downtime at the plant. 

Local contracts are ratified in addition to the UAW-GM national contract, which spells out big issues including wages and benefits. 

Local contracts can also be very important, however, covering issues such as overtime, the number of vending machines in employee lunchrooms and uniform reimbursement rates. 

Kristin Dziczek, senior project manager at the Center for Automotive Research, said local unions across the country are finding GM is demanding more of workers as it is forced to cut its costs to stay in business. 

Things only became tougher after GM took government loans to fend off bankruptcy, agreeing in the process to make work rules competitive with those provided around the world by other auto companies. 

"They go to a local (union) and say, ‘We need you to meet this (benchmark),’" Dziczek said. "(The question becomes), ‘How far will you bend to be the one who survives?’"

 

Staff writers Melissa Burden and David Harris contributed to this report.

 

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