It took a special labor agreement with the UAW to persuade General Motors to assemble a subcompact car in Michigan rather than Mexico.
The UAW negotiated an agreement that calls for 40 percent of the work force at GM’s Orion assembly plant to earn wages and benefits of about half those paid to high-seniority UAW members.
That would save GM about $14.6 million a year on wages alone for the 500 workers who will get wages of $14 an hour, vs. the $28 earned by the plant’s 800 traditional UAW workers.
Orion has staffed the plant expecting to start building the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact in August.
Orion also has opened with fewer than half the 230 skilled trades workers that operated there before the plant closed temporarily late in 2009 to make way for the subcompact.
GM has said labor and other savings will allow it to build a subcompact profitably in the United States.
Ford Motor Co. assembles the Ford Fiesta subcompact in Mexico, and Fiat builds its Fiat 500 there.
Subcompacts tend to sell for less than larger, better equipped vehicles, making it difficult to assemble them profitably in countries with relatively high labor costs.
The Orion contract is controversial because many high-seniority workers on layoff at Orion were given two choices: return to Orion at half their traditional pay or take jobs offered them at other GM plants in Michigan or elsewhere.
Most laid-off workers who weren’t among the 800 able to come back at full wages and benefits chose to work elsewhere.