Slow sales fuel 2 more weeks of GM layoffs

By Don Shilling

Cobalt production is to end about June 24 as attention shifts to the new Chevrolet Cruze.

LORDSTOWN — General Motors has added two more weeks of downtime to its Lordstown complex to reduce the supply of Chevrolet Cobalts on dealer lots.

GM said previously that the complex would be down for a week in March, but it told union leaders Thursday that two additional weeks were added. Workers will be laid off the weeks of March 1, March 15 and April 19.

Tom Mock, a GM spokesman, said the downtime weeks are subject to change but are being scheduled based on current demand and forecasts for coming months.

More off weeks in June and July are being considered, said Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1714 in Lordstown. Those weeks, however, could fall into the traditional summer shutdown weeks, he said.

The complex used to be shut down for the first two weeks of July every year, with workers getting paid for the week of July 4 and taking one week of vacation pay for the other. A new national contract allows management to schedule those two weeks anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day and requires union workers to take two weeks of vacation.

The field supply of Cobalts has been running higher than industry targets for some time as sales of the car have slumped along with most of the car market.

GM has an 85-day supply of Cobalts, said Jim Graham, president of UAW Local 1112 in Lordstown. Automakers like that number to be at 60.

GM sold about 104,700 Cobalts last year, down 44 percent from the 188,000 that were sold in 2008.

Both union leaders are expecting better sales ahead as the complex shifts to production of the Chevrolet Cruze.

Green said GM plans to end Cobalt production around June 24. That will be the day crews begin work on the last of the Cobalts, he said.

Crews will then shift their attention solely to the Cruze, he said. Production will be slow at first to make sure the cars are coming together properly, he said.

“Getting it right is essential,” he said.

Graham said the official launch of the Cruze is to be in August, but GM has only said it will be in the July to September quarter.

Green said 31 laid-off workers were recalled this week at the metal fabricating plant at the complex. These were the last of Local 1714 members who had been laid off during the meltdown of car sales in late 2008 and early 2009.

The plant has 944 workers on the job, who are preparing for the Cruze launch in addition to making parts for the Cobalt.

Local 1112 at the assembly plant has 350 people laid off and 2,400 people who are staffing two shifts.

Local 1112 this week reached an agreement with GM on how its local labor contract will be modified to fit the 2007 national contract, which provided cost-saving measures to help the struggling automaker.

Negotiators have been bargaining for several months. The national agreement requires all local contracts to comply with at least 93 percent of templates that were created for local plants.

Among the changes for Lordstown are moving some work to outside contractors, how paint shop workers are paid and how transfers are handled.

Included in the work being sent to outside contractors are the maintenance and installation of cranes and hoists, some repair of electrical and electronic instruments, staffing of the wastewater treatment operation, and the repair or rebuilding of machinery and motors, such as lathes, drill presses and grinders.

The union isn’t happy about the changes but understands that GM needs to bring its costs down to those of foreign-based automakers, Graham said.

“Every plant in the nation is going through the same thing. It’s just something we have to do,” he said.

Local 1714 reached agreement on bringing its local agreement into compliance earlier this month.

Membership votes were not required for approval.

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