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Official: GM plant to stay on 'standby'

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JAMES P. LEUTE
September 20, 2011
— United Auto Workers Local 95 President Mike Marcks expects to learn today that the shuttered General Motors' plant in Janesville will remain in "standby" status.

Marcks bases his expectations on online and media reports attributed to unnamed sources.


"I can't confirm any of it, but if it's true, I think it's good news for Janesville," Marcks said Monday while traveling to Detroit.


Marcks and other union leaders will hear UAW President Bob King and others explain the terms of a tentative contract reached Friday between the union and GM.


The four-year contract apparently whittles the automaker's list of standby plants from two to one. Sources have said the deal includes new assembly work at a plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.


In 2008 and 2009, GM closed several production plants around the country but said that only two—Janesville and Spring Hill—would remain on standby status in case the automaker needed to increase capacity to meet production demands.


Now it appears that the Spring Hill plant will get new assembly work. People briefed on the agreement said the former Saturn assembly plant in Tennessee would reopen.


In addition, plants in Michigan and Missouri have been promised new products, they said.


When pressed, industry analysts have routinely said that of the two standby plants, Spring Hill would likely come back online before Janesville.


They've said GM needs to maximize capacity at its 11 U.S. assembly plants, a strategy the automaker has employed throughout the year with announcements of steady sales, new investments and new shifts of workers at several of its plants.


The analysts also have said that the Janesville plant's designation as a standby facility is important because it keeps it in line should the automaker need more production capacity.


Once closed, a plant is dropped from any future plans.


Throughout the year, Local 95 officials have asked international union officials to keep Janesville in mind as the contract was negotiated.


"That's always been our message: Give us the work in Janesville, but if you can't do that, please allow us to stay on standby," Marcks said.


By the time the Janesville plant ended production of full-size sport-utility vehicles in late 2008, more than 2,000 hourly workers were laid off.


Hundreds of others lost their jobs at local GM suppliers.


At Spring Hill, more than 2,000 workers were idled when GM stopped making the Chevrolet Traverse in 2009. It has, however, continued to build engines, and GM last year announced a nearly $500 million investment to manufacture the next generation of the company's Ecotec engine at the complex.


Between 1990 and 2007, the Spring Hill plant built more than 3.7 million Saturns.


Workers must vote on the deal before it can take effect. That will take place in the next week or so.


Marcks said he expects to learn more details today about a ratification vote and how many people in Janesville could participate.


OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

The tentative contract agreement reached late Friday between General Motors and United Auto Workers includes a $5,000 signing bonus and the possibility of sweeter profit-sharing checks for GM's 48,500 factory workers, but most of them aren't likely to see a pay raise.


The contract also includes a $2- to $3-per-hour pay raise for entry-level workers over the life of the contract and guarantees of more union jobs. GM now has about 2,400 workers making the entry-level wage of $14 to $16 per hour, about half the pay for longtime UAW workers.


If approved, the GM contract would serve as a template for the UAW's negotiations with the other two U.S. automakers and be the first since GM and Chrysler received government bailouts to make it through bankruptcy protection in 2009.


Material from Gazette wire services was used in this story.

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