Moraine fought hard to keep SUV plant, but automaker's woes may seal its fate
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News
MORAINE, Ohio -- One day in March, a bus packed with city mayors, school superintendents and township supervisors on a pilgrimage from Ohio's gritty Miami Valley region arrived at General Motors Corp.'s sprawling office complex in Pontiac.
One by one, the local leaders went before a team from GM with promises and a plea not to shutter the automaker's truck factory in Moraine, just south of Dayton.
"We told them, 'Whatever you need,' " Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin said last week in recounting the trip. "We want General Motors to stay here."
A decision on the factory's fate could come as soon as Tuesday, when GM is expected to announce further restructuring moves.
Dependent on GM as an economic engine, communities around Dayton and the local union are desperately trying to persuade the automaker to keep building vehicles -- any vehicles -- at Moraine Assembly.
The efforts likely come with the promise of tax breaks, labor concessions from the union and job training for a modern work force. But all of that may not be enough to save a factory that builds unpopular SUVs from the harsh realities facing today's U.S. auto industry. A weak economy is dragging down vehicle sales while rapidly rising fuel prices are driving a fundamental shift in consumer tastes away from trucks to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and crossovers.
"We're all just hanging," said Harry Bluhm, who has worked at the Moraine plant for 36 years. "One day we think we have something, then we don't.
"One thing we all know -- if they give us another truck they might as well just shut us down. Our only chance is to get something smaller."
In many ways, Moraine embodies the dire situation facing Detroit's automakers. The Big Three are building too many big pickups and SUVs, and even the most heroic efforts won't save the work force from more painful downsizing.
The Moraine plant is a special case for GM. The onetime refrigerator factory is represented by the International Union of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America, making it GM's only U.S. plant not represented by the United Auto Workers.
For months, the automaker has been quietly cutting a labor deal with the IUE that could give the factory lower labor costs than those at any other GM plant in the United States or Canada, sources familiar with the talks say.
Despite the possibility of an attractive labor deal, however, the factory may still be among GM's doomed.