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LORDSTOWN $230M upgrade hinges on pact



Published: Mon, August 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Plant workers must be willing to change how they do their jobs for GM to commit to the plant's future.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

LORDSTOWN -- General Motors plans to spend $230 million to upgrade its metal fabricating plant in Lordstown, a union official said.

The investment will come only if members of United Auto Workers Local 1714 approve a new union contract this week and GM awards a new product to the Lordstown Assembly Plant next door, said Bob Chambers, Local 1714 president.

He said the large investment would be important because the plant's long-term future has been uncertain. There have been rumors that GM might close the plant, which employs 2,400 hourly workers.

GM officials didn't say they would close the plant if the union doesn't agree to work-rule changes in the proposed contract, but indicated they would look more favorably on the plant when making spending decisions if the new pact is approved, Chambers said.

Team concept: The new labor contract that GM wants would bring a team concept to the plant.

"The investment comes at a price and that price is a different way of doing your work assignment," Chambers said.

Instead of handling one type of job, workers operating in a team would have to learn several jobs. An inspector, for example, would have to learn how to be a press operator and how to do other production jobs.

Chambers said there would be extensive retraining of workers if the team concept is implemented.

Chambers said GM officials are asking for the changes because they think they can run the plant more efficiently. The Lordstown plant is the only plant in the metal fabricating division that doesn't have a team concept.

Teams would have between six to 10 people and would be led by a team leader, who would be part of the union.

Pay for many workers in the plant would be increased because all workers would be paid at the highest pay rate in the plant. Team leaders would receive an additional 50 cents an hour.

Skilled trades workers, such as electricians and pipefitters, would not be asked to do work in other classifications but they would rotate among various jobs within their classification.

Other details: Local 1714 and GM reached a tentative contract agreement last week, but details were not released then. Workers are receiving informational fliers this week and will vote Wednesday and Thursday.

If approved, the four-year agreement would become effective Sept. 14, 2003. GM has been negotiating labor contracts in advance of making investments in plants.

With the contract and a new product at the assembly plant, GM has said it would modernize four of the plant's 26 presses, Chambers said. He said it isn't known whether they will be rebuilt or replaced.

GM also intends to install a new system for making the underbodies of the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire, which are sent to the plant next door for assembly.

Mary Irby, a GM spokeswoman, said

Chambers said the agreement says that all workers who want to remain on the job will have a job at the plant. He said, however, that he expects some attrition.

Employment at the plant topped just over 3,000 in 1997 but has fallen by 600 as workers have retired.

The adjacent assembly plant is waiting for word on whether it will get the next generation of GM small cars in a few years. GM is considering a plan to spend about $500 million to upgrade that plant.




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