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Union: GM to recall 2,000 laid-off workers

March 24, 2011 http://detnews.com/article/20110324/AUTO01/103240394

Union: GM to recall 2,000 laid-off workers

ALISA PRIDDLE AND CHRISTINA ROGERS
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers union says that by fall, General Motors Co. will recall the last 2,000 of its laid-off workers, clearing the way for new hiring at its U.S. plants.

Most of the recalls will be in southeastern Michigan, whose economy was devastated in the downturn.

GM declined to confirm the timeline, but Joe Ashton, UAW vice president in charge of GM, said Wednesday “those people will all be back at work in September.”

“We will have full employment in September for the first time in a long time,” he said.

The recalls are further evidence of the recovery of GM, and the auto industry as a whole. During bankruptcy, GM shuttered 11 plants, eliminated four brands and dismissed tens of thousands of workers. As of December, it employed about 49,000 hourly workers and 28,000 salaried employees. At its peak, in 1979, GM employed 618,000.

The good news came on the second day of the union’s three-day bargaining convention, at Detroit’s Cobo Center. The conference, with some 1,200 participants, wraps up today.

UAW President Bob King said jobs will be restored at a number of GM plants.

GM spokeswoman Kimberly Carpenter confirmed that most of GM’s remaining laid-off workers are concentrated in southeastern Michigan, but she declined to pinpoint which plants or say when new hiring may begin.

“We have announced several actions that will help people get back to work,” she said. Among them: adding a third shift of 750 to GM’s truck plant in Flint, a second shift of 600 in Lansing to build a small Cadillac and 1,550 workers being recalled to build two small cars at the Lake Orion assembly plant.

Once all workers are recalled, new hires can be brought in at about half the traditional wage — between $14 and $16 an hour, Carpenter said.

The two-tier wage system is part of the UAW’s national, four-year agreement with GM, which expires Sept. 14.

The union agreed to lower entry-level wages in 2007 to help the struggling automaker stay afloat, but the two-tier wage scale remains controversial among the membership.

Some UAW workers have called for its modification or elimination, arguing that having different wages for the same job breeds resentment and divides the membership.

King said the union will revisit the pay issue during the contract talks this summer. He said he sees no need to pick a lead automaker with which to set the contract pattern; he plans to negotiate with all three simultaneously.

New factory hires are important for the UAW, which is working hard to reverse declines in membership.

“It’s important to get fresh blood into the union,” said Walt Duvernois, president of UAW Local 659 in Flint. He said while new workers will be hired in at a lower wage, their numbers will be crucial to strengthening the union’s hand in future rounds of bargaining.

“We can’t get them better wages until we hire them in,” Duvernois said. “Then we have something to work with.”

Jimmy Settles, the UAW’s vice president for Ford Motor Co., said all Ford workers are back except those temporarily off the job in Louisville, where the plant is being retooled to make the new Ford Escape and other compact vehicles.

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said about 330 Ford workers are on layoff.

Settles noted that Ford has brought more work previously performed by outsiders back into its fold, creating more than 2,000 jobs since 2007.

Future of plants a priority

Ashton said while the UAW has success stories at GM, such as shifting work from South Korea to the Lake Orion plant, thereby creating 1,000 U.S. jobs, challenges remain.

The futures of idled GM plants in Spring Hill, Tenn., Janesville, Wis., and Shreveport, La., slated to close next year, are priorities in contract negotiations, he said.

Bernie Ricke, president of UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, said securing new investments from the automakers for U.S. factories will be a top priority in the upcoming contract talks.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t have the work, the rest doesn’t really matter much,” Ricke said.

At Chrysler Group LLC, the UAW also wants more parts production brought back into the assembly plants and to unionize suppliers, said union Vice President General Holiefield.

Chrysler, which has recalled all workers, outsourced more work than its competitors over the years, but has started to reverse that under the management of partner Fiat SpA, which brought in the Italian automaker’s manufacturing system.

“Chrysler’s already been put on notice,” Holiefield said.

crogers@detnews.com

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