NUMMI workers rally in Fremont to save jobs

February 12, 2010 6:19:51 PM PST
Local labor leaders want to go nationwide with a campaign to save the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont. They staged a rally on Friday with a message that read: "Toyota kills American jobs. The plant closure affected nearly 5,000 jobs, directly and thousands more indirectly."

When the economy collapsed, it took car sales with it and facing bankruptcy General Motors pulled out of this joint venture with Toyota.

Now the plant is just six weeks from shutting down and it will take with it thousands of jobs at NUMMI and many more in plants across California.

Keeping the NUMMI plant open is a long shot -- workers know it. Still, Friday's rally was yet another attempt to convince Toyota to keep its 4,600 employees here working. They want Toyota to know closing the plant will impact their families.

"I'm deeply sad, hurt, because they're not only friends, we're family," NUMMI worker Dawnelle Cummings said.

Their union, United Auto Workers, hopes to convince Toyota closing the plant would be a bad public relations move -- especially now that the automaker is in the middle of a massive recall.

But a NUMMI spokesperson issued this statement: "The plant will close on April 1 and our main goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible for our team members."

The union is currently talking to Toyota about a severance package for workers and no details on those negotiations were available.

"Our first priority is to convince Toyota to keep the plant open. We want a safety net in case we don't, but those discussions are still going on," UAW Local 2244 Vice President Bob King said.

As the eleventh hour approaches, there are rumors about a solar company moving into the plant.

The president of UAW, Sergio Santos, says he's aware other companies may want to occupy that space.

"There are other car factories from other countries interested in our workforce and interested in our facility," he said.

Because it's likely the plant will close, an assistance program has been set up for workers. This gives them leads, helps them write a resume and apply for training or school.

"I thought I was going to retire here. I've been here for more than 10 years, I don't even have a resume. I don't even know how to put a resume together no more," NUMMI worker Sheldon Bowman said.

"I'm 43 years old, so it's more a matter of getting retrained for a new job or try to get back to school," NUMMI worker Roland Ruskin said.

The company initially offered a retention package to those who agreed to stay to the last day of production. Workers would get $13,000 to $40,000, depending on how many years they've worked here. Many workers were not happy because there were no medical benefits offered.

Toyota now has less than six weeks to come up with something better.

The NUMMI closure will affect far more than just the people who work there, it will also have a major impact on a Fremont shoe store, which stocks boots specifically ordered by the plant for its workers.

"Everyday, a lot of my customers come in and talk about it how it's affecting their business. I get a lot of local business owners. So it's going to affect a lot of local businesses here in Fremont, which I think, drastically," Oscar Blanco from Beck's Shoes said.

The impact will also be felt more than 50 miles away in Tracy.

Pacific Coast Industries will no longer produce brake and fuel lines installed in the cars made at NUMMI. Nearly 127 jobs will be going away, and some are already looking for work.

"A lot of friends are unemployed with the recession. I might go back to school, if not a lot of jobs out there," Mark Cordero from Pacific Coast Industries said.

The Pacific Coast Industries workers will be joining thousands of jobless San Joaquin County residents -- the unemployment rate there stands at 19 percent.


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