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GM brings 1,000 jobs to hard-hit area

February 9, 2010

GM brings 1,000 jobs to hard-hit area

The Detroit News

Delta Township — In a throwback to an era when auto plant jobs made Michigan a land of riches, General Motors Co. intends to run its Lansing Delta Township plant day and night, Monday through Friday. GM, which plans to add a third shift at two other U.S. plants, contends it’s a bold step in efficiency; some analysts say it’s a risky move.

Regardless, the hiring of up to 1,000 workers for a late-night shift has created a minor boom in an area long battered by plant closings and job losses. The addition of a third shift in April will include 483 transplants from GM’s Spring Hill, Tenn., assembly plant, which ended production in November.

The area, once home to GM’s now dead Oldsmobile line, has not seen such a blast of new workers in a very long time.

"Everybody is just, like, super helpful and happy we’re here," said Michele Barks, a Spring Hill transplant who began working at Lansing Delta Township last month in the paint department.

The Michigan plant makes the crossover Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and a final batch of Saturn Outlooks, a product and brand that’s being eliminated.

The plant will begin to produce the Chevrolet Traverse, formerly made at Spring Hill.

Barks is among the first wave of workers from Tennessee who are slowly being absorbed into the plant — undergoing training in the classroom and on the line — before the April launch.

Barks is a third-generation GM worker. She has survived two plant closings. Her father and grandfather worked at GM their entire careers.

"No one is more happy than me that I can keep a job," she said. "I love working at GM."

Tables in the plant corridors overflow with brochures and business cards from moving companies, restaurants, child care services and a couple of school districts.

"Every real estate agent, bank manager and all kinds of businesses have already called me," said Brian Fredline, president of United Auto Workers Local 602, which represents the plant on Lansing’s west side. "It means we have survived after the worst crisis this company has had since the Great Depression."

‘Painful examples’

The window outside Fredline’s Lansing office overlooks an empty parking lot that was a GM complex before the buildings were razed in the past decade. Another Lansing plant that made Oldsmobiles shut in 2005.

"Those are painful examples that we abandoned the middle class and manufacturing base in this country," Fredline said.

Besides GM, a minor rebound in plant hiring is also expected at Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC as U.S. vehicle demand begins recovering from last year’s dismal levels, which hit a 47-year low.

Ford said a $450 million investment to build its next-generation hybrid models and its first plug-in electric cars in Michigan should create 1,000 jobs.

Chrysler hasn’t given any details on its hiring plans.

GM also is adding a third shift at its Kansas City, Kan., and Fort Wayne, Ind., plants, restoring 2,400 jobs, GM officials said. Still, that’s just a fraction of the 126,000 factory jobs the industry cut in the United States last year as it restructures and, in the case of GM, ends lines.

Beyond the Spring Hill transplants, the rest of the Lansing Delta Township jobs will be filled by laid-off GM workers from the Lansing area and 250 from outside it, which could mean more workers moving in. GM isn’t hiring anyone new, and the jobs already have been filled.

About 140 of returning workers, initially hired in 2007 or after, will earn $14 an hour — half of what their counterparts earn. The UAW agreed to that concession.

Most are grateful for the work, Fredline said.

"That’s still a very good wage in this economy, and everyone knows if we could hire more at the wage, we’d have a line around the block," he said.

Area is excited

Any way you add it up, the additional plant shift is the biggest spurt of new workers in the area in a long time.

Lansing has welcomed several insurance companies, a hospital, a few small high-tech firms and growth at Michigan State University over the past decade, but the relocating Tennessee workers have excited the area.

"Up to 500 people and their families moving in a short period into the area, that is fantastic," said Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

"It’s good for the economy. It’s good for the soul."

Delta Township and Lansing share tax revenue from the plant, which is in the township.

Every auto job creates five other jobs in the community, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

They include Delta Township suppliers that already are preparing to hire to keep up with the third shift, said Township Supervisor Kenneth Fletcher.

"The impact is almost immediate," he said.

‘It’s a really good job’

Not everyone agrees that a third shift boosts capacity.

A few idle hours between shifts improves plant efficiency, allowing for restocking and cleanup, according to the influential Harbour Report, a consulting firm that studies the productivity of automakers.

Midnight-shift workers are more prone to on-the-job errors, absenteeism and illness, according to Circadian, a Boston consultancy specializing in round-the-clock operational challenges.

GM spokeswoman Heidi Magyar said the Lansing Delta Township plant has plenty of time to clean up on weekends and it’s not hard to schedule maintenance of one section while another operates.

Some workers say the experts underestimate their enthusiasm.

"You get used it; sleeping most of the day," said Zane Meike, 37, a Lansing Delta Township worker who had worked a previous late-night shift.

"It’s tough at first, but, you know, it’s a really good job and no one here takes that for granted."

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