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Auto workers react to new car, 3rd shift

June 4, 2008
Special to the Salem News

After an arduous negotiating process, United Auto Workers Local 1112 ratified a local labor agreement by a 60 percent majority vote.

“The members did a fantastic job. The membership has been very patient,” Local 1112 president Jim Graham announced at a press conference at the union·s North Jackson hall Tuesday morning. “This provides security to our membership.”

Voting on the contract began at 5 a.m. Monday and concluded at 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Graham and UAW 1112 Shop Chairman Ben Strickland said ratification of the agreement was expedited ahead of Tuesday’s General Motors shareholders meeting in Wilmington, Del.

“Our intention was not to get this ratified until later this week,” Strickland said. “But we were driven pretty hard to get it done” ahead of the meeting.

The news came only hours after confirmation from the shareholders meeting that the GM Lordstown Complex would add a third shift this fall and would begin producing a new vehicle for the 2011 model year. Strickland said production of the new car would be launched around the second quarter of 2010.

“We’re overwhelmed,” Strickland said. “We’re ecstatic.”

Strickland added the union notified the company of the vote result before the car announcement was made.

Graham said the agreement was “critical” in Lordstown receiving the new product.

“This is absolutely great, great news,” Graham said.

Strickland said the union did not want to go into the details of the local agreement, but did add the desire to keep working was crucial to the ratification.

“A lot of people want to work,” Strickland said. “They want security.”

Ironically, rising fuel costs may have played their own part in GM Lordstown’s good news Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, gas prices are going up,” Graham said. “But that helps Lordstown.”

Tom Wilkinson, GM’s director of news relations, said high gas prices have caused changes in consumer behavior that likely are permanent. As the company shifts focus to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars,

See CARS, Page 5A

Lordstown could be a key player.

“I think putting the new compact Chevy (at Lordstown) is a vote of confidence,” Wilkinson said. “Clearly the plant has a role to play.”

Employees emerging from the Lordstown Complex at 3 p.m. Tuesday had plenty to discuss.

“It’s always good news when you’re adding a third shift,” said John Havich of Austintown, a 31-year employee who works in the materials department.

Havich said employees watched General Motors Corp. chief executive Rick Wagoner’s press conference Tuesday morning.

“It’s good for us, but I feel bad for the rest of the guys losing their jobs,” Havich said.

Prior to the annual meeting’s opening, Wagoner announced plants in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada; Moraine; Janesville, Wis; and Toluca, Mexico would be closed.

Bob Guesman of Champion, a maintenance worker with 23 years of service, said, “Obviously, I’m quite happy with the new car. But I’m not really happy that they passed the contract. The skilled trades lost work; the line didn’t.”

Guesman said, for example, that plant pipefitters formerly performed all fire system maintenance, but that they no longer would. Additionally, Guesman said the plant’s last remaining sweepers could be losing their positions.

Despite possible losses, Tuesday’s news brought things full circle for GM Lordstown.

“Seven years ago, people were talking about Lordstown closing its doors,” Graham said. “Today, we’re part of the cornerstone of GM.”



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