Elected officials join fight for NUMMI’s future

SAN FRANCISCO -“I was thinking I’d like to go work at the plant, with him,” Shaheem Broughton said, glancing toward his father, when a reporter asked him what he’d like to do after high school. “Now I may have to look somewhere else.”

Standing outside U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office Aug. 29 with hundreds of workers from the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) auto plant and their families, the Livermore High School student said his dad, longtime NUMMI worker Miguel Alvarez, “has told so many great stories about working in the plant.” Broughton really liked participating in NUMMI’s summer program that brings students to work there. “These are hard-working people,” he said. “I just want to save their jobs.”

Like many industrial sites, NUMMI has long been a family workplace with sons and daughters following their parents into the plant.

The mood at the rally, two days after Toyota top management said it will cease operations at NUMMI next March, was sober and determined. Leaders of United Auto Workers Local 2244, representing the plant’s 4,700 workers, were joined by local and state elected officials in pledging stepped-up efforts to keep the plant working, either by getting Toyota to change its mind, or by bringing in another manufacturer.

NUMMI, a General Motors-Toyota joint venture, began production in the East Bay city of Fremont in 1983. Its workers have earned top awards for productivity, efficiency and safety. Vehicles made there include the Corolla and the Tacoma light truck, and until GM pulled out this summer as part of its bankruptcy the Pontiac Vibe. NUMMI is the only auto assembly plant on the West Coast, and the only union Toyota plant in the U.S. It is estimated that up to 50,000 area jobs outside the plant could be affected if it closes.

State Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico emphasized the work of elected officials at all levels to secure the plant’s future. “We’ve been spending the last year bailing out Wall St., sending money to the auto manufacturers; now it’s time for the federal government to bail out NUMMI!” he declared, to cheers.

Torrico lived nearby when the previous plant closed in the early 80s, before NUMMI. “I remember the devastation of that community, not just economically but psychologically,” he said, recalling a classmate’s father who tried to commit suicide. Torrico vowed that elected officials would “put their differences aside” to maximize incentives including seeking federal auto bailout funds and would continue to press Toyota to keep the plant open, building hybrid cars, “for the next 25 or 200 years.”

That determination was reflected in messages from area members of Congress, read by Local 2244 president Sergio Santos, including one from Feinstein, who recounted the plant’s achievements including building the biggest-selling car in the recent cash-for-clunkers program, the Corolla.

Before the rally, Santos emphasized the bipartisan support for the plant at the state level, adding, “Whatever it is – cars, trucks, whatever – we’re ready to build it here!”

Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson is a leader in the “red team” of elected officials, business, labor, port and transportation officials the governor put together to work for the plant’s future. In a telephone interview, he said a years-long effort has greatly intensified in the recent period, including meetings with Toyota top management.

In the longer run, Carson said, stemming the outward flow of manufacturing from the region and from California may necessitate the coming together of divergent interests. “Why can’t we, especially in this community, lead the way in saying, to keep us all from losing everything, how do we respectfully plan for the future together so that balance is maintained and we can help to clean up the environment, pay decent wages and have health care for everyone?”

Meanwhile, he said, talks with Toyota continue, with the carmaker aware that its main customer base is in California, and that measures already in place will save it millions in production costs.

 

 

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CONTRIBUTOR

Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for the People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.

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