SUV Plant to Remain Open After GM Rebuffs UAW Request

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
suv plant to remain open after gm rebuffs uaw request

If you’ve visited an airport recently, you probably heard on CNN that cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in jurisdictions that largely escaped the earlier wave. Against this backdrop, General Motors came under pressure this week to cease operations at its Arlington, Texas assembly plant.

Home to four full-size SUV models currently undergoing a generational metamorphosis, the plant lies in a state experiencing an upswing in infections. It’s also a key player in GM’s post-lockdown recovery. The automaker says it’ll stay open.

As reported by CNBC, the request to temporarily idle Arlington Assembly came from a UAW local.

The bargaining committee of UAW Local 276 stated Monday that the plant should go dark “until the curve is flattened for the benefit and well-being of our members.”

“Every day we are setting new records in the number of people who are testing positive in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” the release continued. “Although General Motors has put safeguards in place, the Center for Disease Control has repeatedly said that the only true way to stop the spread of this virus is to stay at home. The safety and well-being of our members here in Arlington is our utmost concern.”

Viral spread can be very regional, but Tarrant County, where Arlington Assembly resides, has seen the second-highest number of coronavirus deaths in Northeast Texas, with neighboring Dallas County being first. With the state’s numbers on an upward curve, Governor Greg Abbott paused the reopening process and warned of a “very dangerous turn” in the disease’s progression.

For now, at least, GM isn’t overly concerned with the case load. In an emailed statement to CNBC, the automaker stated “there have been no changes to our production plans at Arlington because our safety protocols are working, thanks to a strong team effort.”

GM’s production restart hinged on a lengthy list of new health measures that earned the approval of the UAW. At the time, back in early May, the main focus was on Rust Belt states, Michigan especially. The state’s COVID-19 numbers were then on the decline. However it shakes out, the Texas situation is an example of what to expect going forward, as a pandemic that shows no signs of weakening butts heads with an industry that needs to produce to stay alive.

Just before going into lockdown, GM rolled out next-generation versions of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade — each one scheduled to go on sale mid-year. The body-on-frame brutes enter the 2021 model year with more interior room and greater standard length, and, right or wrong, getting these strong-selling, big-margin vehicles to dealers (along with full-size pickups) is top of mind for the automaker.

Arlington Assembly employs more than 4,500 hourly workers.

[Image: General Motors]

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  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jul 01, 2020

    So they will want them to continue getting paid. If you are GM, this poses obvious problems if you aren't actually building cars. Eventually the government tells them to stay home, The union ensures the employees keep getting paid, and GM gets another bailout (and they won't be alone this time). Could GM play the bad guy here and just shut it down and tell the workers to see their union for monetary and healthcare benefits? I don't know how that world works, but I do know paying people to not build cars will get expensive pretty fast.

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Jul 02, 2020

    "The safety and well-being of our members here in Arlington is our utmost concern." Ensuring safe working conditions is one good purpose of the union. If they think the company is violating this principle, they might strike. And building a high-margin vehicle gives the plant workers more leverage.

    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jul 02, 2020

      Depends. Has the strike fund recovered from the last strike? If not that leverage dries up pretty quick. If the country eases back into shutdown mode GM may not actually have much need for those lines to build product anyway.

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