Gloomy outlook for jobless NUMMI workers


There is little hope for any of the NUMMI workers to find similar jobs since the Fremont auto plant is the last major one in California. ABC7 News has analyzed the numbers just out, and there has been a significant loss in auto-related jobs in the past year.

For the Oakland-Fremont-Hayward area, which would include the immediate area around NUMMI, the number of transportation equipment manufacturing jobs has dropped 4.2 percent from 7,100 in January 2009 to 6,800 in January 2010.

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, now at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, says 4,700 out of work NUMMI workers will put a drag on the Bay Area economy.

"If anything, it's getting worse for many people, and it's not just the unemployed," he said. "There's people who are underemployed, people who are working part-time jobs who would rather be working at full-time jobs; also, people who are too discouraged even to look for work. Add them altogether, and in the Bay Area and in much of California, we're seeing actually closer to 20 percent unemployment."

Reich anticipates NUMMI workers could be jobless for over a year. Employees themselves are realizing that.

"I'm not thinking months, I'm thinking more years because you're going to have all these people hit the job market all at the same time," said 11-year NUMMI employee Steve Munoz.

Some of the long-time workers remain optimistic, hoping training will give them new careers.

"I'd like to get into the green business, something that our future is going to be looking forward to," said 16-year NUMMI worker Anthony Marquez. "Just got to stay busy. Keep looking."

The only areas of job growth for the same region in the past year have been in health care (up 0.5 percent or an increase of 200 jobs) and in leisure and hospitality (up 0.4 percent or an increase of 300 jobs).

A 15-year NUMMI employee said he has recertified for a job as a medical assistant. However, no one is hiring. He expects it will be months, perhaps a year, before he finds employment.

"I think that there's still plenty of room for people to attend school and work a survival job at the same time, but you've got to be determined to do it for sure," said state labor market analyst Janice Shriver. "Other people, they'll find themselves looking for three part-time jobs just to make ends meet."

Solyndra, a fast-growing solar panel system manufacturer, is expanding its Fremont plant. It has announced it will be hiring 2,000 people. However, a source there tells ABC7 that it is unlikely that any NUMMI workers would be qualified for its kind of assembly operation. Instead, the source says the company would look at the large pool of unemployed semiconductor assembly workers whose job skills more closely match Solyndra's needs.

There is one possibility emerging that the massive, 5 million-square foot auto plant might continue under new ownership. A little-known company called Aurica Motors LLC in Santa Clara says it is in negotiations to use the plant to produce electric cars. Aurica general manager Matt Pitagora said he will not do interviews today, nor will he provide details of its plans. He said Aurica submitted a proposal to NUMMI in January, although NUMMI spokesman Lance Tomasu says he knows only of a phone call from Aurica with no follow-up. Pitagora said the company is a start-up that works out of a lab in an industrial section of Santa Clara. No one ABC7 News contacted connected with the development of electric cars or hybrid vehicles knew of Aurica or Pitagora.

The cost of keeping the NUMMI plant running would run an estimated $580 million per year just to cover pay and benefits for the 4,700 assembly line workers under the existing labor contract.

Many of NUMMI's suppliers are over the hill in San Joaquin County; 3,000 jobs will be lost there, pushing the unemployment rate up to 19 percent. While Fremont is at the epicenter of an economic earthquake, the shockwaves will be felt over a much wider area.

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