GM Lordstown nears switch to Cobalt production that saved plant
LORDSTOWN, Ohio - A changeover to making the new Chevrolet Cobalt at General Motors' northeast Ohio plant will mean fewer workers and more flexibility for employees' job roles. The changes were the difference between life and death for the Lordstown Assembly Plant, a key employer for the Youngtown-Warren area in northeast Ohio.
"Everything is going very smoothly right now," Jim Graham, UAW Local 1112 president, said Wednesday, anticipating the start of Cobalt production Oct 18.
GM has not disclosed how many workers will be making the Cobalt at the plant about 50 miles southeast of Cleveland, but Graham said the union expects about 3,000 to 3,200.
The plant now has about 3,600 workers still making Cavaliers, he said.
Several hundred will not initially be involved in Cobalt production but still will be paid by participating in a "job bank," in which they will train to be able to step in and handle various jobs, Graham said.
An adjacent metal-stamping plant, which makes body panels, has about 1,700 hourly workers now. UAW Local 1714 President Kaster said it will need about 1,000 workers for the Cobalt.
Chevrolet hopes to sell 230,000 to 250,000 Cobalts a year, with the split about even between the sedan and coupe styles of the small car.
"GM Lordstown is undergoing a cultural change. There will be a difference in how the product is built because the work force will be more engaged. If an issue comes up we want them to help us solve the problem," GM spokesman Dan Flores said.
Until the union found out for sure in 2002 that GM would build a newly designed car at Lordstown, workers did not know whether company wanted to continue any work there once production of the Cavalier ended in 2004. The Cobalt saved the plant from having to shut down, but Graham said he always had faith that there would be work available.
"The thought (of the plant closing) never crossed my mind even in the dark days," he said. "I had full confidence in the work force. The membership can compete with anybody in the world."
GM Lordstown years ago had a reputation for tough unionism at odds with management.
"We are older now, and we realized that the company has to make a profit," Kaster said. "We are more quality-conscious and more mature."
The old assembly line is not being replaced. But GM is spending about $1 billion on the plant, with major expenditures including $162 million for a new shop to paint the vehicles and an improved body shop, which welds pieces together.
Flores said GM is putting its "Global Manufacturing System" in the Lordstown plant, the production model using teams of workers and interchanging jobs.