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Union asks automakers to 'keep Janesville in mind'

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JAMES P. LEUTE
March 31, 2011
— As it prepares to negotiate a new national contract this summer, a United Auto Workers official said Tuesday that the union would consider the use of entry-wage workers to improve the chances of opening idled plants such as the General Motors facility in Janesville.

Speaking at GM's Orion assembly plant in Michigan, UAW Vice President Joe Ashton said he thinks the chances are "great" that GM will eventually reopen its plants in Janesville and Spring Hill, Tenn. Both facilities are now listed as "standby" and are being retained by the automaker in case it needs additional production capacity.


Ashton, who handles GM bargaining for the UAW, said the union "will look at anything when it comes to negotiations that will retain jobs."


John Dohner Sr., president of UAW Local 95 in Janesville, said representatives of both Local 95 and its regional office have been in contact with Ashton and others in Detroit about the possibility of bringing work back to Janesville.


Dohner said Wednesday that Ashton's comments should not create a sense of false hope for Janesville. Instead, they are merely an indication of the talks likely to occur during this summer's negotiations.


And contrary to local rumors, Dohner said no contractors are inside the Janesville plant readying it for impending production.


"We hear those all the time," he said. "These days, everyone has a cell phone camera, and my standard response has been, 'Snap a couple pictures and show me.'"


The UAW will begin negotiations this summer with domestic automakers to hammer out a new labor contract. The current contract expires in September.


"We just wanted to tell them to keep Janesville in mind," Dohner said.


If either the Janesville or Spring Hill plant reopens, it would likely do so with what the current national contract refers to as a second-tier wage system where new workers are paid about half the $28 per hour wage of longtime UAW workers.


Dohner said that he's uncertain what provisions are in place now to assure that workers who left Janesville for other GM plants would be able to return or what their wages would be.


Much of that, he said, would likely be determined by the new labor contract.


"With a new contract, you're basically starting all over again at page one," he said.


GM officials were unavailable for comment Wednesday.


On Tuesday, Cathy Clegg, GM's vice president of labor relations, said the automaker retained both Janesville and Spring Hill plants "in the event we needed the upside capacity.


"There is no product demand for them to fulfill right now," Clegg told Automotive News. "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."


Industry analysts have pegged U.S. production capacity at about 17 million vehicles per year. Last year, domestic automakers enjoyed a better year, but sales didn't top 12 million.


The Center for Automotive Research forecasts U.S. auto sales this year will be 13.4 million.


Material from Gazette wire services was used in this story.

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