Labor campaigns vs. NUMMI closure

toyota

 

FREMONT, Calif. - Labor and community allies are joining with workers at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant as they and their union, United Auto Workers Local 2244, ratchet up pressure to keep the plant open despite Toyota's decision to shut it down in March.

NUMMI, begun as a Toyota-General Motors joint venture in 1984, employs about 4,700 UAW members and assures an estimated 50,000 more California jobs. Last year, after bankrupt GM pulled out, Toyota said it would close the plant. The workers and their allies, including elected officials, have campaigned against the closing ever since.

Many unions showed their support at a spirited rally Feb. 12 at union headquarters, across the street from the plant.

Local 2244 president Sergio Santos drew resounding applause when he told the crowd, "We want the company to review and reverse their decision to close our factory!" California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski got the hall chanting, "Stop your plan to close us down, don't be the bad guys in this town."

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, snowed in on the East Coast, told the rally by video, "Toyota betrays American workers ... Toyota - do not kill American jobs." Calling Toyota the most popular car brand in California, Trumka drew cheers as he warned, "Toyota shouldn't think they can destroy our jobs and communities and then sell us their cars."

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer wondered out loud why, among Toyota's many plants, they chose to close the one with a unionized work force. Then he pounced: "That's why this is a national issue!"

Noting that Toyota used to be known for loyalty to its workers and for a quality product, UAW National Vice President Bob King said the new management has "lost its way," as shown by the closure, the safety recall, and the apologies of Mr. Toyota himself. "If they close the Fremont NUMMI facility," he thundered, "we will not buy another Toyota."

"We Teamsters know how to boycott," declared Rome Aloise, Western Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. "We'll show you how to shut this company down... It's not too late to save this plant. We're with you!"

Since California is a big market for Toyota, the fightback was projected as both a boycott and public awareness-raising.

Foreshadowing coming actions at dealerships, Bargaining Chair Javier Contreras confidently predicted, "We're going to make ‘em call the corporation and say ‘why don't you get these guys outta my front yard?'"

The very next day, union members gathered at Toyota's dealership on Oakland's Oakport Street, holding banners reading, "Toyota-Lexus: A Danger to California," and "Toyota - Killing California Jobs. Theirs was among 14 boycott demonstrations at area dealerships.

"We're here to get the support of fellow Americans to keep that plant open," Javier Contreras Jr. said. He said the dealership had sold no cars that day, and told of getting a call saying "their manager's pretty upset right now." Earlier, police, summoned to dislodge the workers, determined they were on public land and had the right to stay.

Contreras Jr. said NUMMI workers had not been offered jobs at other Toyota plants. Everyone agreed that it was no accident that NUMMI, Toyota's only unionized plant, was being targeted for harsh treatment.

Communications Workers of America Local 9412 leaders Cookie Cameron and Keith Gibbs were out in support of their "brothers and sisters" at NUMMI. They related how the UAW supported them in their recent dispute with AT&T, and emphasized that everyone will lose if NUMMI is shuttered.

The UAW and its allies plan to demonstrate at dealerships every day.

Photo: David Bester Left to right:  Keith Gibbs (CWA), Javier Contreras Jr. (UAW), Julie (CWA), Cookie Cameron (CWA).