GM plants duel to avoid shutdown

December 20, 1991|By Greg Gardner | Greg Gardner,Knight-Ridder News Service

DETROIT -- The bidding wars broke out yesterday as desperate communities scrambled to preserve General Motors Corp. assembly plants that could be shut down.

Several cities began looking for incentives to offer GM. One United Auto Workers local considered changes in work rules, fearing its members would lose their jobs if their plant was among the 21 to be closed by 1995.

In Arlington, Texas, where a GM assembly plant is battling with its Willow Run sister factory near Ypsilanti, Mich., the City Council held an emergency meeting last night to consider doubling a tax abatement that has saved GM nearly $900,000 over the last two years.

The two plants build GM's large rear-wheel-drive sedans, such as the Chevrolet Caprice, Buick Roadmaster and Cadillac Brougham. And their workers expressed different strategies.

The Arlington GM workers authorized UAW leaders to negotiate work-rule changes that could increase productivity and save their jobs. Specifically, local union officials will discuss the use of three crews of workers on rotating 10-hour, four-day shifts. The arrangement enables a plant to operate seven days a week with little or no overtime.

But at the Willow Run plant, UAW bargainers said yesterday that GM hadn't requested contract concessions, and the union wasn't offering any.

In Oklahoma City, Okla., site of another assembly plant, there were mixed signals. Local union officials said GM officials told them their plant will survive, but GM would not confirm that. Mayor Ronald Norick said he had already talked with GM officials about what it would take to keep the plant open.

GM plans to shutter six assembly plants, four engine plants and 11 component plants by 1995 in a massive retrenchment outlined Wednesday by Chairman Robert C. Stempel. The company's work force will be cut by more than 70,000 over four years.

Douglas Fraser, a former UAW president, said his top priority would be to press GM to announce its decisions quickly. That would "cause pain in the 21 plants affected, but it would relieve anxiety in 100 more," he said.

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