NUMMI RIP? Toyota Considers Dumping UAW Plant

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

According to the now-infamous Georgetown, Kentucky memo, ToMoCo’s brass are concerned that their workers’ wages are growing faster than the company's profits. To rectify this situation, Toyota’s newest plants will pay workers based on local manufacturing wages– not United Auto Workers (UAW) scale. Naturally, the UAW is using this as flamebait to organize Toyota’s stateside operations, starting with Georgetown. Toyota’s launched its next salvo in this ongoing war of wages: they’re contemplating pulling Tacoma production from NUMMI.

GM and Toyota formed NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) in 1984. The Fremont, California facility was Toyota’s first foray into American manufacturing and GM’s chance to learn about Toyota’s take on lean manufacturing. The 380-acre NUMMI facility currently cranks-out approximately 250k cars (Toyota Corolla, Pontiac Vibe) and 170k trucks (Toyota Tacoma) per year.

The NUMMI plant employs around 5440 “team members.” Some 4550 of these employees also play for the UAW. This makes NUMMI the only Toyota plant using UAW labor and one of the highest-labor-cost manufacturing facilities in the entire American automotive industry.

Some NUMMI workers earn more than $32 per hour, plus benefits. Combine this compensation with the joint venture's location– a high-cost area away from Toyota’s major suppliers– and it’s no wonder the factory’s drawn negative attention from its Tokyo taskmasters.

In a prepared statement, NUMMI officials recently declared that the plant must do more to improve its “competitiveness” and stated it would only stay in business “only if it is able to do so.” That’s management-speak for “if we can’t get labor costs under control we’re abandoning this turkey.”

Moving Tacoma production from Freemont to a lower-cost production facility does not pose insurmountable difficulties. Toyota’s Tijuana plant already makes the beds for all Tacomas, along with small quantities of complete trucks (34K in ’06). For the money saved in labor costs, the world’s largest automobile manufacturer could expand their Mexican production facility to accommodate increased Tacoma production.

Toyota also has excess capacity at their new Tundra plant in San Antonio. As the automaker builds Tundras in both Texas and Indiana, they could shift production around to open up some spare capacity for the Tacoma, at either location. And Toyota could also modify plans for their new plant in Elvis' birthplace (Tupelo, Mississippi) to build Tacomas as well as Highlanders.

The UAW knows Toyota’s serious about walking away from NUMMI. Last week, leaders from Local 2244 and 890 told their members that they stand a good chance of losing Tacoma production and warned “we are now fighting to exist.”

There are still a couple of years before the axe falls; the current UAW contract at NUMMI expires in August 2009. In the meantime, a “no layoff” clause means Toyota can’t trim costs by jettisoning employees. So the union must devise other alternatives to entice Toyota to change their mind.

The UAW’s already started making nice with management, offering proposals for the increased use of temporary employees and other cost-cutting measures. These stopgap measures may or may not satisfy Toyota. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that high level Toyota executives are actively contemplating cutting back North American production.

According to the report, Toyota’s U.S. production capacity is growing faster than sales, and a cheap yen makes importing cars from Japan a cost-efficient proposition. Toyota’s pulling back on plans for new plants and revamping pay policies. They’re on a cost-cutting spree, and anything between the Pacific and the Atlantic is fair game.

NUMMI's Toyota bosses will be watching the outcome of this summer’s UAW negotiations with The Big 2.8 with considerable interest. As Toyota products account for the vast majority of NUMMI production, when it comes to any decisions regarding the facility's operating costs or, indeed, its future, Toyota calls the shots.

Toyota is sure to use the upcoming negotiations as a barometer of the local UAW’s willingness to accept wage or benefits cuts and/or changes to work rules. These concessions will be the deciding factor when Toyota makes their final decision on whether or not to maintain California production.

But two years is a long time to wait if you’re trying to cut costs. And there’s just so much you can do with suppliers, utilities, work rules and other expenses. Short term, Toyota has two choices: coerce the UAW into giving back some of what they gained in the last contract or move production elsewhere. Look for the Japanese automaker to take the path of least resistance.

The uncertainty surrounding NUMMI reflects the fact that the union’s future isn’t looking too rosy right now. Delphi’s UAW workers just took a massive cut in potential earnings and other benefits. The upcoming negotiations with The Big 2.8 seem to have the deck stacked in Detroit’s favor. And in spite of the UAW’s attempts to gain ground in Toyota’s plants, Toyota still holds the trump card.

Frank Williams
Frank Williams

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  • Jruhi4 Jruhi4 on Jul 16, 2007

    I think that much of the key to NUMMI's survival is whether or not Pontiac gets to create a 2nd-generation Pontiac Vibe off of the upcoming 2nd-generation Toyota Matrix which should debut in the late 2007/early 2008 time frame. If GM and Toyota share this model once again, it improves the odds for NUMMI's survival. If, on the other hand, GM/Pontiac pass on a 2nd-generation Vibe, then I'd say NUMMI is seriously endangered.

  • Hotrod Hotrod on Jun 30, 2009

    The problem is not the $32 per hour it is the fact that there is 5 people doing 1 persons job and that is what the UAW has done for all the of the big 3. It is hard for me to understand why the big 3 employees can't see that and that this problem is costing thousands their jobs.

  • Daniel J Until we get a significant charging infrastructure and change times get under 10 minutes, yes
  • Mike I own 2 gm 6.2 vehicles. They are great. I do buy alot of gas. However, I would not want the same vehicles if they were v6's. Jusy my opinion. I believe that manufacturers need to offer engine options for the customer. The market will speak on what the consumer wants.For example, I dont see the issue with offering a silverado with 4cyl , 6 cyl, 5.3 v8, 6.2 v8, diesel options. The manufacturer will charge accordingly.
  • Mike What percentage of people who buy plug in hybrids stop charging them daily after a few months? Also, what portion of the phev sales are due to the fact that the incentives made them a cheaper lease than the gas only model? (Im thinking of the wrangler 4xe). I wish there was a way to dig into the numbers deeper.
  • CEastwood If it wasn't for the senior property tax freeze in NJ I might complain about this raising my property taxes since most of that tax goes to the schools . I'm not totally against EVs , but since I don't drive huge miles and like to maintain my own vehicles they are not practical especially since I keep a new vehicle long term and nobody has of yet run into the cost of replacing the battery on an EV .
  • Aquaticko Problem with PHEV is that, like EVs, they still require a behavioral change over ICE/HEV cars to be worth their expense and abate emissions (whichever is your goal). Studies in the past have shown that a lot of PHEV drivers don't regularly plug-in, meaning they're just less-efficient HEVs.I'm left to wonder how big a battery a regular HEV could have without needing to be a PHEV.