Battle Over NUMMI Escalates

UAW aiming to rally support to keep CA plant open.

by on Jul.28, 2009

The UAW is firing the first salvo hoping to prevent the closure of the 26-year-old NUMMI venture, near San Francisco.

The UAW is firing the first salvo hoping to prevent the closure of the 26-year-old NUMMI venture, near San Francisco.

The United Auto Workers and its union allies have quietly launched a campaign aimed at pressuring Toyota not to close the NUMMI plant in California now threatened by the break-up of a long-standing joint venture between the Japanese maker and General Motors.

The e-mail-based campaign is urging supporters of the UAW to call their Congressmen and encourage them to keep the plant in Fremont, California open.

The factory, originally a GM plant, has been running for a quarter century as part of an alliance between the two erstwhile competitors.  Toyota originally saw the joint venture as a way to test the possibility of producing cars in the U.S., while GM hoped to learn about Japanese manufacturing techniques.

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The U.S. maker decided to abandon its position in NUMMI after emerging from bankruptcy since it is dropping the Pontiac brand and the marque’s Vibe is the only GM model now made at Fremont.  Without its U.S. partner, Toyota has said it had little interest in retaining NUMMI, its only unionized American factory.

Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota’s top executive in the U.S., said, last week, that Toyota has not yet made any kind of final decision on the fate of NUMMI.  Inaba indicated, though, Toyota was prepared to dissolve the partnership with GM, which was first established in 1983.

However, Toyota spokesmen also have made the point that dissolving the joint venture with the blessing of the bankruptcy judge in New York presiding over the sale of GM’s unwanted assets, is not tantamount to closing the plant.

Another problem is that Toyota’s manufacturing operations in the U.S. appear to be having difficulty rationalizing production capacity under pressure from Toyota’s top management back in Japan. Losses in North America have contributed significant portions of the maker’s ongoing losses, which are mounting into the billions of dollars.

(Complicating matters, in something of a surprise, Toyota – which barely nosed out bankrupt GM in terms of global production during the first half of the year — is already in jeopardy of losing its crown as the world’s leading automaker to Volkswagen AG.)

Inaba indicated during a visit to Detroit, last week, that Toyota probably has too much capacity in the U.S., which would suggest the unionized NUMMI is particularly vulnerable.  Toyota has already put on indefinite hold a partially-completed plant, in Tupelo, Mississippi.

The UAW isn’t taking any chances and is deploying its political skirmishers in a bid to dissuade Toyota from axing Fremont, which has more than 5,400 employees and can build more than 400,000 vehicles annually.

“Toyota Motor Corp. is considering closing the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, Calif. NUMMI is the last automobile manufacturing plant in California,” the union’s e-mail to members and supporters stated.

“We believe that Toyotas sold in the United States should be made in the United States. California is by far Toyota’s single biggest market for car sales in the United States. From the start, the NUMMI plant has been praised as one of the nation’s most advanced car factories,” the letter continued.

Asserting that the closure would have, “a devastating impact on California” and UAW members, in particular, the e-mail concluded, “We must act now!”  It urges them to call their state and local representatives to demand that the plant stay open and that Toyota be pressured to bargain fairly with the union.

It is obvious that the battle over NUMMI is only heating up.

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