UAW vying for new jobs at idle GM plants in Tenn., Wis.

UAW vying for new jobs at idle GM plants in Tenn., Wis.
Mike Colias
Automotive News | March 29, 2011 – 2:49 pm EST
UPDATED: 3/29/11 4:15 pm ET
DETROIT — A top UAW official said today that he believes there’s a good chance General Motors will reopen idled plants in Spring Hill, Tenn., and Janesville, Wis.
UAW Vice President Joe Ashton also said the union is open to the use of entry-wage workers to improve the chances of reopening those or other plants.
“We will look at anything when it comes to negotiations that will retain jobs,” Ashton told reporters during a briefing at GM’s Orion assembly plant in Orion Township, Mich. The UAW is set to begin negotiations this summer on a new, four-year labor agreement with GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group. The current contracts expire in September.
Later this year, GM will start production in Orion of two small cars under a two-tier wage structure. It allows GM to run the plant with 40 percent of its workers at an entry wage of about $14 per hour, about half of what veteran assembly line workers make.
The deal, which stemmed from GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, was controversial among rank-and-filed workers. But it lets GM make money on those vehicles, clearing the way for GM to become the only automaker to build subcompact cars in the United States.
Orion is expected to employ about 1,550 workers when production of the Chevrolet Sonic begins this summer; the new Buick Verano subcompact will begin soon after.
When asked what he thought of the chances that the Spring Hill and Janesville plants eventually will reopen, Ashton said: “Personally, I think they’re great.”
Cathy Clegg, GM’s vice president of labor relations, said those plants are on standby. She said GM retained both plants after the company’s 2009 bankruptcy “in the event that we needed the upside capacity.”
“There is no product demand for them to fulfill right now,” Clegg said. “Absolutely we would like to be able to have demand for our products such that we would be able to turn those plants back on.”
Spring Hill has about 1,000 employees in an engine and stamping plant on site, while its assembly plant remains shuttered.
Clegg said GM’s assembly plant in Shreveport, La., which makes the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon compact pickups, is scheduled to close for good when it ends production of those vehicles next year.
Ashton acknowledged he’s less optimistic about reopening the Shreveport plant, but he said the UAW will press for it during negotiations.
“We differ on Shreveport,” Ashton said. “But we still feel GM has an obligation to those employees. If there’s something we can put in that facility, then it should be put in there.”

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