General Motors' plans for a new generation of efficient assembly plants - dubbed Project Yellowstone - is getting a cautious endorsement from the UAW.
Local UAW leaders representing workers in Lordstown, Ohio, and Lansing, Mich., are negotiating local contracts that would let GM reduce the work force in its assembly plants.
Yellowstone is GM's plan to produce profitable small cars, such as the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire, in North America. By relying on 15 nearby suppliers to deliver parts modules to the assembly plant, GM hopes to cut production costs by 20 percent.
Each Yellowstone plant would employ about 2,000 workers, substantially fewer than GM assembly plants typically employ. For example, Lordstown's assembly plant employs 5,400 workers.
In turn, GM promises to avoid layoffs. The company believes it can cut the payroll through attrition, retirements and buyouts.
'As long as our membership is taken care of, we don't have a problem with it,' said Jim Graham, president of UAW Local 1112 in Lordstown. 'As long as every member is taken care of, that's our goal.'
The UAW also would have a chance to organize suppliers to be located in an industrial campus adjoining each plant. GM might boost employment in engine plants and other facilities that supply parts for Yellowstone.
That is a tempting lure for UAW Local 652, which hopes to build engines as well as cars for a Yellowstone plant in Lansing.
'I'm optimistic. I think we'll make it work,' said Art Baker, shop chairman for UAW Local 652.
In Lansing, UAW Local 602 recently authorized its leadership to negotiate a new contract with GM, leading to speculation that GM may locate two Yellowstone plants in the Lansing area.
Although local UAW leaders were upbeat, the union's top leadership has avoided comment. Asked whether he would endorse Yellowstone, UAW President Steve Yokich was noncommittal.
GM hopes to wrap up talks in 60 to 90 days, said Mark Hogan, general manager of operations, North America small car group.
'I am guardedly optimistic, but we have a long way to go,' he said.
Hogan made his comments after his speech on Project Yellowstone during the Automotive News World Congress.