GM plant transformation won’t slow pickup production

November 18th, 2016

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Americans want more trucks and General Motors Co. executives are working to make sure no part of its Fort Wayne Assembly Plant transformation slows production.

To that end, the automaker is getting an early start on some key skilled trade recruiting. It also may get some help maintaining its current pickup production level from a Canadian plant in Oshawa, Ontario.

GM went from operating about 70 plants to about 40 following the Great Recession. An Oshawa pickup plant was among those it closed, in 2009.

A new four-year contract with Unifor Local 222 called for a $554 million investment, which “provides job security with new product for Oshawa as it begins to produce cars and trucks, stability to St. Catharines as volume is shifted to the plant and improvements at the parts distribution centre in Woodstock,” the union said in a statement.

GM executives will not reach a final decision on details of the Oshawa investment until they have completed negotiations on it with Canadian government and economic development officials.

What they are considering, according to business media coverage of the Unifor negotiations, is an investment that would make the Oshawa plant capable of building trucks as well as cars.

With Silverado bodies shipped to it from GM’s Fort Wayne Assembly Plant, the Oshawa plant would handle some component parts installation as well as final assembly, according to the reports.

Because the local plant is operating at full capacity, spokeswoman Stephanie Jentgen said the plan would enable the company to maintain its pickup production volume “while we ramp up for the next generation of trucks.”

“It would allow us to get the new processes and equipment of the next generation in without shutting down; it would allow unfettered production to continue,” she said. “It is GM’s priority to maintain full production to meet the demand.”

NAFTA or not

President-elect Donald Trump criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, and said he would re-negotiate it. If he did, Jentgen believes that would not be likely to affect what the company is considering for the Oshawa plant, she said.

GM and other U.S. automakers have expressed willingness to work with Trump.

“GM congratulates both candidates and parties on their hard-fought campaigns. GM looks forward to working with President-elect Donald J. Trump and the new Congress on policies that support a strong and competitive U.S. manufacturing base,” the company said in a statement.

“GM will continue to do its part to transform the future of mobility, in America and around the world.”

The company’s plant near the intersection of U.S. 24 and Interstate 69 employs about 3,800 on three shifts, represented by United Auto Workers Local 2209, making full-size and heavy-duty regular and double cab Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.

Expansion on schedule

The $1.2 billion plant transformation there began in June 2015. The company said it would expand the plant’s body shop, upgrade its general assembly operations and build a new pre-treat, electro coat paint operation and sealing facility. The project also will involve expansion and new construction for the plant’s material sequencing centers.

“We’re right on schedule with everything. The hope is late next summer we’ll be able to be tying in new systems with current systems,” Jentgen said.

To make sure the plant has enough journeyperson electricians as its new body shop comes online, it plans to hire up to 30 individuals with those skills by the end of next year, which will set record for the facility’s skilled trade hiring.

“We hope to have 100 candidates apply for these positions,” Brett Stilwell, engineering manager, said in a statement. “GM offers steady, year-round work with excellent benefits and many overtime opportunities.”

In addition to making $33 an hour, journeyperson electricians receive medical, dental, vision, hearing and prescription medication benefits as well as life insurance and a 401(k) plan with a company match.

Applicants must be at least 18 and have an electrician apprenticeship completion certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor or notarized documentation showing eight years of experience as an industrial electrician.

Apprenticeship programs for the trade were discontinued temporarily when several electricians working for GM were laid off with the plant closures, but all of those workers have been recalled and the programs have resumed, Jentgen said.

Interested individuals may apply online at generalmotors-skilledtrades.appone.com.