FREMONT — Hoping to cajole Toyota into a rescue of the imperiled NUMMI auto factory here, union leaders launched a nationwide effort Friday that will include picketing at the embattled manufacturer’s auto dealers.

The new campaign by members of the United Auto Workers and other labor groups comes as Toyota is reeling from multiple safety and quality miscues.

A crowd that crammed into a big union hall across the street from the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont chanted and cheered a series of speakers, including Sergio Santos, president of United Auto Workers Local 2244, which represents UAW members at the NUMMI complex.

"We want the company to review and reverse its decision to close our factory," Santos said.

Others who spoke included top officials from the UAW, the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters Union.

"We will take this fight to every Toyota dealership in California," Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said via a videoconference link. "Our message is that Toyota kills American jobs. This comes at a time when Toyota can ill afford another black eye."

The union leaders unveiled a banner that morphed the Toyota symbol into a skull.

"If they close the NUMMI plant, we union people will not buy another Toyota," said Bob King, UAW vice president.

Toyota will shut the factory April 1, ending a joint venture with General Motors that was born 25 years ago.

"This is an essential part of the California economic puzzle," state Treasurer Bill Lockyer said. "We need these middle-class jobs."


Santos said the wide-ranging effort will initially focus on pickets and leaflets at 25 Toyota and Lexus auto dealerships, then expand to hundreds of other dealers.

"You are going to see an attack on Toyota that is unprecedented," said Rome Aloise, a top Teamsters official.

About 4,700 jobs will be erased at NUMMI if Toyota goes through with the shutdown it announced last summer. Company officials did not return calls for comment Friday.

"We’re going to have to sell our house," said Tina Freitas, a Fremont resident who is married to Ed Freitas, a 21-year NUMMI worker.

Tina Freitas appeared at the rally with son Austin, 12, and daughter Marissa, 8. The children held up signs that read, "This is who NUMMI’s closure affects" and "Save my daddy’s job."

"My husband is going to have to get whatever he can find," Freitas said. "He has to put food on the table."

Maricela Alvarez, a Ceres resident, mother of three, and a quality control worker at NUMMI, choked back tears during a brief address to the rally. After the event ended, she said she was much more upbeat about the plant’s chances of survival than she felt before the rally.

"I’m feeling much more optimistic," Alvarez said. "It felt so good to get everybody together working for the plant. I think we have a very good chance to keep it open."

Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477.