UAW: Nearly all laid-off Detroit 3 workers are back to work

UAW: Nearly all laid-off Detroit 3 workers are back to work
David Barkholz
Automotive News | March 23, 2011 – 11:03 am EST
UPDATED: 3/23/11 3:25 pm ET

DETROIT — The Detroit 3 are on the verge of having full employment at their U.S. operations after several years of hardship and layoffs, UAW officials said today at the union’s special bargaining convention in Detroit.

UAW Vice President Joe Ashton said the final 2,000 hourly workers at General Motors on layoff will be back to work by September.

UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said Ford Motor Co.’s hourly workers represented by the union also are all back to work, except for some temporary layoffs at Ford’s Louisville Assembly Plant. The Louisville factory is being retooled to build the next-generation Ford Escape.

Chrysler has added about 5,000 workers since 2009 and now has about 25,000 hourly workers, said UAW-Chrysler department Vice President General Holiefield. The automaker will have about 500 workers idled in the coming weeks when Chrysler winds down its Trenton North engine plant and the Detroit Axle plant, Holiefield said. But those workers, displaced when new replacement Chrysler plants couldn’t use all the workers, are expected to be reabsorbed quickly at other Chrysler factories, he said.

UAW-represented employment at the Detroit 3 has stabilized as U.S. auto sales have risen to an annualized rate of 13.4 million light vehicles in February. Since the last bargaining convention in 2007, GM’s UAW-represented work force has dropped from around 75,000 to 49,000 as plants have closed and workers departed either through attrition or retirement.

A good problem

Interviewed on the sidelines of the convention today, Holiefield said it feels good to hear workers complaining of too much overtime.

“That’s a good problem to have,” he said.

Ashton, who heads the union’s GM department, said the ramp-up of GM’s Orion Township assembly plant in Michigan combined with new shifts at the automaker’s Flint and Detroit-Hamtramck plants, also in Michigan, will bring full employment to UAW-represented workers at GM.

GM’s Orion plant is ramping up for the launch of the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact. Flint builds pickups, while Detroit-Hamtramck builds the Chevrolet Volt and other sedans.

Ashton, who addressed delegates at the UAW special bargaining convention here, said the union would fight in the upcoming contract negotiations with GM to find work to restart idled plants in Spring Hill, Tenn., and Janesville, Wis., and to keep the Shreveport, La., factory operating.

The Shreveport plant is scheduled to close in 2012. This week the plant, which makes the GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado compact pickups, has been idled because of a shortage of parts stemming from the disaster in Japan earlier this month.

Orion contract praised

Ashton said he was proud of the UAW’s Orion contract that has been controversial with rank-and-file workers. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said, explaining that the Sonic would not have been built in the United States if not for contract changes at the plant.

Among those is the requirement that no more than 60 percent of hourly workers receive traditional $28-an-hour wages, while the rest receive entry-level wages and benefits equal to about half those of traditional workers.

Orion will begin production of the Sonic this summer.

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