McNerney presses Toyota execs on NUMMI closure

February 23, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The head of Toyota's U.S. operations made it clear on Tuesday, there is no hope of keeping the New United Motors Manufacturing, Inc., plant in Fremont alive, past March.

Toyota president James Lentz was questioned by a committee on Capitol Hill about the company's recalled car problems. And when asked about NUMMI, he blamed General Motors and the economy for its demise.

Most of the NUMMI workers tell ABC7 they are not counting the days, but they are starting to plan their next moves. And that includes a stop at the NUMMI re-employment office where state and county agencies are set up to offer skills assessment and counseling.

Toyota's U.S. president James Lentz is not budging when he was asked why NUMMI could not be kept open.

"It was General Motors abandoning NUMMI that set this in play. That's the truth of the matter. When they pulled out and they pulled out 30 percent of their volume, that plat was difficult to become commercially viable," says Lentz.

East Bay congressman Jerry McNerney, D- Pleasanton, does not believe Lentz.

"I don't think there's any credibility in that answer at all. Basically, I think they are just looking for an excuse to close it and this was it. And I think it was a terrible mistake for Toyota to do that," says McNerney.

Sergio Sanchez, UAW Local 2244 president, says NUMMI is a perfect example of the quality image Toyota needs to promote as its addresses sudden acceleration complaints. He pointed out the plant has won several J.D. Powers awards for quality.

Tony Camillo is a 19-year NUMMI employee. He thinks Toyota needs to repair its battered reputation and keeping NUMMI open would do that.

"It would be the right thing to do if they would reconsider. They know they've got the best workforce in the United States working here. The quality's good. Product's good. Sales are good. It only makes good sense," says Camillo.

"I'm pretty sure this is a good step for Toyota to step up and keep the plant open. I hope the Japanese see it that way," says Jesus Mesina, an 18-year assembly line worker.

A blue-ribbon commission created by state treasurer Bill Lockyer will hold a hearing Wednesday to assess the economic damage of NUMMI closing.

U.C. professor Harley Shaiken is the commission chairman.

"In a certain economy, that could have unintended ripple consequences that are even more severe. So, we're looking at about the last thing the state economy needs right now," says Shaiken.

He says NUMMI workers should still focus on a next job.

"Our concern is what's best for these people being laid off. How do we help them be able to gather the right information, and what are the right tools in their toolbox to answers these questions," says Craig Palmquist from the NUMMI reemployment center.

Union members say they still have hope, but time is running out. There is a general membership meeting for NUMMI workers scheduled for Sunday morning.