By Bay Area News Group Blog Editor
Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 at 11:06 pm in Uncategorized.
By George Avalos
NUMMI workers have overwhelmingly approved a shutdown agreement that gives an average severance package of $54,000 to union members and makes the Fremont auto factory’s closure within weeks a certainty.
The approval of the deal came Wednesday night, according to two top officials with the United Auto Workers Local 2244. The UAW unit represents 3,700 union workers at the 4,700-employee vehicle plant.
“The tentative agreement has been ratified,” Javier Contreras, chairman of the UAW bargaining committee, said in a text message.
The plant is scheduled to be closed by April 1. The New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. factory is a joint venture between Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Corp.
About 90 percent of the UAW members approved the severance package, while 10 percent rejected it, Sergio Santos, president of UAW Local 2244, said in a text message.
Despite the approval, some employees blasted a deal provision that provides only $21,175 of that amount for 300 employees who are on disability leave.
The top range of the severance package, typically for union workers who have been employed for 25 years at the auto factory, is expected to be about $68,500, according to information supplied by people familiar with the proposal.
The average settlement amount — based on 15 years of service — is roughly $53,500.
The minimum severance amount is $21,175, said top officials with the United Auto Workers.
“We are not happy with the package,” Santos said Wednesday during a news conference. “The money will never replace the loss of our jobs. We’re going to be thrown out on the street.”
Separate decisions to abandon the factory, first by GM and then by Toyota, condemned the plant to a shutdown. Toyota made the final decision in August to close the plant on April 1.
UAW leaders said they felt NUMMI management — primarily directed by Toyota — boxed them into a corner with few alternatives but to accept the deal.
“The workers don’t have much of a choice,” Contreras said. “This is either a do or don’t.”
Still, about 300 union workers who are on disability will receive a severance payment of just over $21,000 — the minimum in the deal.
“As soon as NUMMI found a loophole to screw people, that’s just what they did,” said NUMMI worker Sal Gomez of Oakland, who went on disability in September 2009 after a knee replacement. “Inside that plant, the company talked about how we’re a family, we’re one team, we will survive for a long time.”
The loophole that NUMMI managers exploited, in the view of some union workers, appears to be linked to the nature of the severance package — which Toyota trumpeted a few weeks ago as a “retention bonus.”
To be eligible for the biggest chunks of the $281 million package, the 4,700 employees at the factory were required to be on the job every day, producing quality vehicles.
For the workers out on disability, the problem has become that their ailments are preventing them from physically being present at the factory. If they’re not at work, they can’t get the bonus.
“To do this to people just because they were hurt is insensitive,” Gomez said.
NUMMI didn’t respond to a request for a comment about the disability situation. A Toyota spokesman, Mike Goss, referred questions to NUMMI.
Some injured workers are concerned that the package won’t be nearly as good as they were initially led to believe.
“The whole situation is even worse than I had expected,” said David Martin, an injured NUMMI worker. “It’s pretty bad. We are going to be filing a grievance with the union against NUMMI.”
The quality work bonus came out to about $285 a day per worker, Gomez estimated.
Union officials said they would not discuss the situation further following a news conference on Wednesday.
“The offer mandates a gag order that I believe violates our First Amendment rights,” Santos said in a prepared release. The order covers union leaders, not rank and file.
“NUMMI did not issue a gag order,” NUMMI spokesman Lance Tomasu said. “The UAW committed of its own accord not to further denigrate NUMMI or Toyota as a term of the shutdown agreement. In fact, the union negotiated and proposed specific language for that provision of the agreement.”
As the shutdown nears, workers said they would focus on high-level production.
“We have always built good quality cars here,” said Juan Carrera, a San Jose resident who has worked at the factory for 43 years, including 25 with NUMMI and 18 with the prior GM operation. “The people inside that plant have made NUMMI what it is.”
Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477