Former Saturn plant could influence GM-UAW talks

DETROIT -- Politicos in Tennessee apparently have impeccable timing.

A coterie of mayors from communities around General Motors’ Spring Hill, Tenn., plant arrived in Detroit Thursday to lobby the automaker for more production there -- just as contract talks between GM and UAW near a climax.

A coincidence? Hardly.

Officially, their visit isn’t timed to coincide with the ongoing talks between GM and the UAW, Spring Hill Mayor Mike Dinwiddie told the Associated Press.

But it’s no secret that Spring Hill, which cranked out Saturns for nearly a quarter century, represents perhaps the best chance the UAW has for securing more jobs under the four-year deal now being hammered out with GM.

Some well-timed face time with GM execs -- and maybe some assurances of fat tax breaks -- couldn’t hurt.

In 2009, about 2,000 workers were laid off when GM idled Spring Hill amid cost cutting as it headed for bankruptcy. The plant is among GM’s most advanced: a $700 million renovation in 2007 vastly improved efficiency and flexibility. Engines are still made there.

Product commitments at Spring Hill and elsewhere were a top priority for UAW leaders heading into the talks.

After all, GM has to offer something. And few believe that wage increases or a restoration of cost-of-living adjustments -- the things rank-and-file members want most -- are in the cards.

The real suspense may be in whether the UAW agrees to allow GM to use entry-level workers should Spring Hill reopen. They earn about $14, roughly half what GM pays full-wage workers.

UAW leaders have said a similar arrangement at GM’s Orion assembly plant outside Detroit, born of a 2009 agreement, was a one-shot deal.

But they’ve also said that jobs trump everything else when it comes to this contract. And reopening Spring Hill -- with second-tier workers or not -- is among the union’s best hopes for more jobs.

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