Green thumbs-down: New plants snub UAW
GM, Delphi use nonunion labor to supply electric cars
David Barkholz
Automotive News -- February 8, 2010 - 12:01 am ET
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General Motors Co. last month assembled its first lithium ion battery pack in suburban Detroit -- with nonunion workers. The plant was set up to make the packs for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and other future GM vehicles.

Delphi Corp., the GM parts offspring, likewise has left the UAW out of plans for an electric-vehicle parts plant it is opening in Kokomo, Ind., said a UAW official there.

The nonunion GM and Delphi plants reflect the UAW's declining influence, even in what had been considered union country, said Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. Even a couple of years ago, those plants would have had rubber-stamped representation by the UAW, he said.

"It says the union just doesn't have the power it once had," Cole said.

Ginny McMillan, president of Local 292 in Kokomo, called the decision to open the plant with nonunion labor a "smack in the face" to the UAW. The jobs are the kinds of green-vehicle positions UAW President Ron Gettelfinger has promoted as the future of the industry.

"We were told that all the concessions we made would make us competitive for new jobs," said Gregg Shotwell, a retired GM and Delphi worker who co-founded a dissident labor organization, Soldiers of Solidarity. "What happened with these jobs?"

UAW spokeswoman Christine Moroski said the union had no comment.

GM spokesman Chris Lee said the battery plant, a new unit of the company, must have competitive manufacturing costs. GM is operating the plant initially with about 25 employees, which could grow to 100, he said.

Hourly employees can decide whether they want union representation, he said.

Delphi spokesman Lindsey Williams said the parts maker had contracted with a staffing company for workers at the former DuPont plant in Kokomo. The plant probably will employ five hourly and five or six salaried workers this year, he said, eventually ramping up to 190.

The Delphi plant will supply electric drives to Allison Transmission for use in medium-duty trucks and buses.

Delphi currently has no UAW-represented employees after 5,000, and their factories, were transferred to GM in October. The UAW represented more than 30,000 employees at Delphi before the supplier entered bankruptcy in 2005.

Both the GM and Delphi plants are being funded, in part, by grants and loans from the U.S. Department of Energy, the companies said.

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com.