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End of the (assembly) line for California car plant

April 3, 2010

End of the (assembly) line for California car plant

Associated Press

Fremont, Calif. — California’s sole auto plant shut down Thursday as the last car rolled off the assembly line and thousands of now unemployed workers walked out the doors, some crying.

A red Toyota Corolla was the last of nearly 8 million vehicles that have moved through production at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., known as Nummi, and a throng of workers accompanied it on the final leg of the line.

"I saw a whole lotta men crying in there when things started going quiet and we said our goodbyes. It made me choke up," said David Guerra, who has worked at Nummi for 25 years — as long as the plant’s been open. He also worked at the site for 14 1/2 years before that, when it was a General Motors Co. plant.

The Nummi plant, established in 1984 as a joint venture between GM and Toyota Motors Corp., employed 4,700 workers. GM made the Pontiac Vibe there but decided to withdraw from the alliance last year after filing for bankruptcy protection; the Detroit automaker is now liquidating its stake in the factory.

Toyota made the Corolla sedan and Tacoma pickup at the plant but said in August that without GM, it could not sustain the factory and would halt production April 1.

Tooling used to make Tacomas will go to the automaker’s plant in San Antonio, Texas.

There have been no announcements of what will become of the sprawling property that covers more than half a square mile near the southern tip of San Francisco Bay.

A statement from Nummi said some employees will continue working at the site over the next few months to sell off equipment, clean up and provide security. The plant also will try to find a buyer and is working with city and state officials to identify the best new use for the site.

Many of the employees were members of the United Auto Workers, and most are due to receive a minimum payout of $21,175 each, adjusted for years of service and other factors. The UAW represents the Nummi workers because of its history with GM. The union doesn’t represent any other Toyota workers in the U.S.

For the past several weeks, state and local officials have appealed to Toyota to keep the factory open — both in an effort to save jobs and as a way to raise the Japanese automaker’s standing following a string of massive safety recalls.

The pleas didn’t stop, even as workers trickled out of the factory and into job centers across the street.

A group of clergy from CLUE — Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice — held a service outside the plant Thursday. The Rev. Carol Been said the group was sending a letter to Toyota asking the carmaker to reopen the plant.

"We want to bring the moral authority of religious leaders to call them back to their way, a better way, the Toyota way," she said. "We think the closure is penny-wise and pound foolish."

Job centers were set up nearby to provide counseling. Workers also filled out forms to collect benefits.

State officials also were pursuing federal grants to help those impacted by the closure. A recent report prepared for a commission set up by State Treasurer Bill Lockyer to study the issue said about 25,000 people, including parts suppliers, could lose their jobs as a result of the plant closing.

Vonda Jones, 44, of Brentwood, who worked on the Tacomas that stopped rolling off the assembly line last week, said adjusting to her new reality has been difficult.

"My alarm went off last Monday and I didn’t know what to do. It was like, ‘Wow, it’s really over,’ " she said.

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