Garamendi trying to save NUMMI

August 6, 2009 7:09:59 PM PDT
Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi is continuing to press for a coordinated effort to keep Fremont's NUMMI auto plant open under Toyota ownership. Garamendi chairs the state's Commission for Economic Development, which held its quarterly meeting in Livermore Thursday. The meeting location had been scheduled months ago, which explains why the Commission did not meet in Fremont, where the plant is located.

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"Work it out, and stay in California, you get all of these good benefits, transportation, education for your work force, tax incentives and federal stimulus money," Garamendi said.

Garamendi heard from Bruce Kern, who is spearheading a statewide "Red Team" task force to save NUMMI, along with legislative aides and a representative of the United Auto Workers union, which represent 4,000 of the approximately 4,500 employees at NUMMI.

"We think by partnering with our universities that we can put together a compelling package together to override some of the low-cost alternatives of vehicle production that other states represent," Kern said.

In what could be an ominous development, Kern disclosed that the head of Toyota is in Michigan to discuss the possibility of producing all-electric cars there as soon as 2012 and no later than 2015. The Red Team is trying to convince Toyota that the Fremont plant is the logical place to be building low-emission or zero-emission vehicles of the future because of the market here.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is out of state Thursday, sent another letter to Toyota officials Wednesday to make a case to keep the plant open. The task force points out as many as 30,000 jobs could be lost if NUMMI closes, the majority of which are tied to a network of vendors up and down the state. At Thursday's meeting at Las Positas College, Garamendi ticked off the number of NUMMI vendors by county: 389 in Alameda County, 209 in Santa Clara County, 79 in Contra Costa, 57 in San Mateo, 53 in San Francisco, 28 in San Joaquin, and even one in Calavaras County.

Two state legislators, Sen. Ellen Corbett and Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, are sponsoring legislation to give tax breaks to Toyota through creation of a special enterprise zone.

Garamendi is advocating that federal stimulus funds be tapped to provide additional incentives to Toyota, but he did not outline exactly how that would be done. The Red Team may be working on those details, and its preliminary report is not due out for another two or three days.

Pat Caccamo, the UAW official at the hearing, indicated that negotiations continue for a new union contract with Toyota. The current agreement expires this weekend.

"We're having our members call and also contacting President Obama and U.S. senators asking for their help to keep NUMMI alive," Caccamo said.

The talks in Michigan of Toyota producing all-electric cars could be a setback for California's coordinated effort to save NUMMI. Thousands more UAW auto workers are jobless in Michigan, compared to Fremont, making that state's recovery a more compelling argument for stimulus funds and priority. However, Caccamo and others point out that General Motors and Chrysler, both based in Michigan, have already received billions of dollars in emergency funding.

Toyota has not made any comments about California's campaign to save NUMMI. Garamendi and others say Toyota is not likely to comment due to the complex breakup of the 25-year-old NUMMI joint venture with GM. The assets that own half of the plant are a part of GM's bankruptcy court proceedings, and in Garamendi's words, "it's like a messy divorce." Creditors will be arguing to get the maximum value out of GM's assets at NUMMI.

Even with so much in flux, there is one shred of good news. The number two selling car in the cash for clunkers program is the Toyota Corolla -- the Corolla, made at the NUMMI plant.

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