Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant would remain open to produce an electric pickup under the proposed deal between the UAW and General Motors, according to people familiar with the tentative agreement.
The news Wednesday confirms earlier Free Press reporting that an electric pickup is slated for the plant closest to General Motors’ headquarters at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit.
Additional details, including the number of electric pickups to be produced at D-Ham, as it’s known locally, how many workers would be needed and when the plant would be retooled, were not immediately available. The fate of the tentative agreement is contingent on a positive ratification vote.
The 4-million-square-foot plant, which straddles the border of Detroit and Hamtramck, was among those slated to be “unallocated” in GM’s surprise announcement on future product last year. However, the plant was not idled before the strike, and was still operating on an extension granted in February to produce the Cadillac CT6 and Chevrolet Impala. News about the future of other unallocated plants, such as the one in Lordstown, Ohio, was not available.
Workers on the picket line at D-Ham Wednesday who spoke to the Free Press before the electric pickup news was confirmed sounded pleased at the prospect of a new vehicle but were also wary about what it would mean for them. Automakers have been ramping up production plans for more electrification in their fleets, but EVs are still a fraction of the new vehicle market.
“Any product is a good product. Whether people are ready for an electric pickup …,” pondered Kurt Fiegel, 66, of Roseville, noting that “they didn’t have much luck with the Volt.”
The Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid, was made at D-Ham but was among a number of car models discontinued by GM, with production ending earlier this year. The company still has its all-electric Chevy Bolt, but that vehicle is a relatively low volume offering.
GM finds itself in competition on electric pickups with not just established players that have announced plans for them, but also newcomers, such as Rivian, which has generated lots of interest for its planned electric SUV and pickup.
Rivian, with which GM had reportedly been in talks at one point, has secured significant investments from Ford and Amazon. That company, with offices in Plymouth Township west of Detroit, on Sunday drew a crowd as it showed off its vehicles in Normal, Illinois, where it has its manufacturing plant.
Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, said details on production of any new electric vehicle will be key for D-Ham in part because of the competition.
“Everybody’s got electric pickups coming in the next couple of years, even an electric F-150. They’re all trying to get that out to market pretty soon,” Dziczek said.
The depletion of $7,500 federal tax credits for buyers of electric vehicles from both GM and Tesla raises questions about the companies’ abilities to maintain or grow electric vehicle demand as they face competitors that still retain the incentives, she said.
For D-Ham, another issue would be how many electric pickups would be built. If it’s 50,000 or less, another product would likely be needed there, she said.
While many predict that electric vehicles are the future for the automotive industry, production of the vehicles themselves are expected to employ fewer workers because the vehicles have fewer parts.
Getting the news
Word that a tentative agreement with GM had been reached came as Maurice Faust arrived for his four-hour picket shift in the midst of a cold drizzle at D-Ham at noon Wednesday.
“I just got it off my text as I was pulling up in my truck,” said Faust, a 42-year GM veteran who lives in Southfield and has worked at the plant since 1997.
Faust, 63, is hopeful the deal will meet the needs of workers, but if not, he said he’s prepared to stay on strike longer, noting his weather-appropriate jacket.
“If need be I’ll do what I have to do,” he said, noting the message behind the strike. “You’ve got to show them you can starve, just like they can starve.”
The announcement of a proposed tentative agreement on the 31st day of the UAW’s national strike against GM does not mean workers will automatically return to their jobs. The UAW National GM Council is set to meet Thursday to consider recommending the deal to the full membership and could either continue the strike pending ratification or stop it.
D-Ham workers walking the picket line in their rain gear Wednesday sounded, like Faust, generally pleased with the news of a potential deal but insisted that certain issues, including job security and a path for temporary workers to become permanent, must be addressed. Several said they thought the presence of GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra at recent negotiating sessions likely had an impact on talks.
‘Beautiful day to picket’
In spite of the rain, Fiegel said it was a “beautiful day to picket,” as he considered the prospect of a settlement. He’s three months away from retirement, but remains concerned about the other workers, including a son-in-law, who will deal with the results of any new contract. He’d like to see a better pension benefit, but also a better deal for temps, with some workers making half what others make and creating “an unhappy workplace.”
For Kathy Faith, 48, of Casco, “seeing is believing.”
While the news of a tentative agreement sounds promising, Faith wants to see details. Like her co-workers, she’s also concerned about temporary workers.
“You work for a company for so long, that should count,” said Faith, who works in the paint shop.
As for an electric pickup at the plant? That’s a positive for Faith because it means D-Ham would stay open, but she also called it a win-lose situation because of the expectation of fewer workers.
If the plant were to get additional products beyond just an electric pickup, “it’d be wonderful,” she said.
GM in general should make more products in U.S. plants, Faith said.
“We buy the products, we should be making the products,” she said, noting that she means no disrespect to Mexican workers.
Contact Eric D. Lawrence: email@example.com or (313) 223-4272. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.
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