$19M grant announced for former NUMMI workers

NUMMI auto plant in Fremont
June 7, 2010 8:10:51 PM PDT
The federal government showed-up in the East Bay on Monday with a lot of money to help the thousands of workers laid-off when the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont closed its doors, but will it make enough of a difference?

A lot of the money will go to the NUMMI Reemployment Center across the street from the NUMMI plant. Roughly 31,000 workers, from plant workers to people who work for the supply companies that provided NUMMI with its parts, lost their job when the plant shut down two months ago and many people are looking for work.

Good news isn't something laid off NUMMI workers are used to hearing, but U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis came to Fremont bearing some on Monday.

"I am here on behalf of our president because he has asked me to announce, through the Department of Labor, the awarding of a $19 million grant," said Solis.

That $19 million is to help 4,700 who used to build Toyota Corollas and Tacomas at NUMMI and the thousands more who worked with companies that supplied the parts.

Career assistance is already underway at the NUMMI reemployment Center and the Washington money will pay for more education to teach some laid off workers how to build electric cars, so that when Tesla Motors moves in, workers are ready.

Now, the pressure is on from the United Auto Workers union and some in the Bay Area's congressional delegation to make Tesla a union shop when the plant doors reopen.

"For Tesla, who's getting a whole lot of government subsidies, good for them. Now let's make it good for the men and women who worked at that plant," says Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.

But many workers worry they won't even be able to get through those doors.

"I doubt if I'll be able to get in because they're only hiring like 1,000 people," says Brian Hicks, a laid off NUMMI worker.

Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman says workers shouldn't be discouraged.

"There's also a lot of similar skill sets. A seats is a seat, a side panels a side panel," says Wasserman.

But after 15 years at NUMMI, Pete Mandeville doesn't see the bright side.

"When they closed down it wasn't supposed to be this hard," says Mandeville.

It hasn't gotten any easier. He has a terminally ill son and with no job, the family has no health insurance.

"They said the help is going to be there for you guys. The transition will be easy. We'll help you every way we can. We're still waiting, it's over two months. We're still waiting," says Mandeville.

A lot of hopes in Fremont are dependent on Tesla right now. Tesla says that it will really need only about 1,000 workers to get that first batch of cars built in the NUMMI factory to get onto the market by 2012. That is where the Washington money will come in. It will cover everything from career and stress counseling to resume writing.


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