GM to reassign shifts to car plants

Lordstown is among the plants being considered for an additional shift.

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors Corp. will furlough entire shifts of workers at some truck factories and may move them to nearby car plants as it restructures to adjust to a rapidly changing U.S. market brought on by $4 per gallon gasoline.

GM Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner and top managers are finalizing additional restructuring moves and likely will announce details at the automaker’s annual meeting Tuesday in Wilmington, Del., two people familiar with the plan told The Associated Press. The people requested anonymity because the plan is not finished.

One said production cuts were part of the plan. Neither would give details.

Key to the plan are the 19,000 hourly workers who signed up to leave the company by July 1 through buyout and early retirement offers. GM on Thursday announced the number of takers in the latest round of offers, which amounts to a quarter of the company’s U.S. hourly work force.

Already GM has announced that it will accelerate indefinite layoffs of one shift each at the Pontiac and Flint pickup truck assembly plants. The layoffs were to begin July 14 due to slow sales of the plants’ products, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.

Workers laid off at those plants could be moved to a car assembly factory in nearby Orion Township, where GM is negotiating with the UAW to add a third shift, said Mike Dunn, bargaining chairman of UAW Local 5960 at the Orion plant.

The Orion plant near Pontiac makes the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6 midsize cars, both of which are selling well as consumers shift from trucks and sport utility vehicles to smaller cars and crossovers.

Dunn said the additional shift could bring 1,100 jobs to the plant, which currently has 2,780 hourly workers on two shifts.

It was unclear Thursday if any other pickup truck or SUV factories would be targeted to lose shifts or even be closed. GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson would not comment.

But the automaker may add a third shift to its Lordstown assembly plant near Youngstown, where it makes the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 small cars, another person familiar with GM’s production plans said Thursday. The person also requested anonymity because plans are not finalized.

UAW Local 1112 at the Lordstown plant reached a tentative local contract agreement with GM Wednesday night. Local contracts are outside of the national UAW agreement and govern work rules, overtime and other items. The deal could clear the way for the third shift and for next-generation vehicles.

Cobalt sales were up 17 percent through April, while G5 sales were down slightly. Silverado pickup sales were down 21 percent in the first four months of the year.

Lehman Brothers auto analyst Brian Johnson predicted GM will have to cut North American production by 16 percent this year because of weak sales of trucks and SUVs.

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