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UAW Jumps on Toyota, But Not GM, for Closing NUMMI

The UAW sharply criticizes Toyota but gives General Motors a free pass, in the union's latest statement protesting plans to close the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, Calif.

NUMMI was founded in the early 1980s, as a joint venture between GM and Toyota. At the time, Toyota was exploring manufacturing in North America, and GM wanted to learn Toyota's industry-leading, "lean" production methods. Jack Smith, a future chairman of GM, led the GM side of the NUMMI negotiations with Toyota, in 1982. Production started in 1984.

However, Toyota announced yesterday, Aug. 27, that it will close NUMMI at the end of its fiscal year, in March 2010.

"Toyota's announcement that it will close the NUMMI plant is devastating news for thousands of workers in California," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, in a written statement on Aug. 27. "Over the past 25 years UAW members at NUMMI have dedicated themselves to building the highest quality vehicles. They deserve better than to be abandoned by this company, which has profited so richly from their labor, their productivity and their commitment to quality," Gettelfinger said.

The UAW also has a petition on its web site, aimed at "forcing" Toyota to keep NUMMI open.

However, GM bailed out of NUMMI before Toyota. GM was building the Pontiac Vibe at the NUMMI plant, but GM is dropping the Pontiac brand, as part of its bankruptcy reorganization. The plant also builds the Toyota Tacoma pickup and the Toyota Matrix, a twin to the Pontiac Vibe.

GM announced in June it would drop its half of the NUMMI joint venture, but that gets no mention in the UAW's latest complaint. The UAW's Gettelfinger also takes a swipe at Toyota for closing NUMMI, even though Toyota was a big beneficiary of the Cash for Clunkers program. I've been predicting for a while somebody was bound to use Cash for Clunkers as a political stick to beat Toyota.

Yet GM has cut a lot more UAW jobs than Toyota ever dreamed of cutting. And GM is the biggest beneficiary of U.S. government support around. But the union lets GM off the hook for dropping its share of NUMMI.

While of course they are old adversaries, GM and the UAW have new common interests, not least that post-bankruptcy, the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust now owns 17.5 percent of GM. That puts the union's NUMMI protests exclusively against Toyota in a different light.