GM, UAW tout expanded work at Tenn. auto plant

Mon Nov 21, 2011 11:00am EST

* Spring Hill plant to make Chevy Equinox next year

* UAW to increase membership by at least 1,300 at plant

* Second product to begin production for 2015 model year

By Bernie Woodall

SPRING HILL, Tenn., Nov 21 (Reuters) - General Motors Co will add nearly 1,900 jobs at a former Saturn plant in Tennessee by 2014, the company and the United Auto Workers said on Monday.

GM said it would begin making the Chevrolet Equinox small sport-utility vehicle, or crossover, at Spring Hill in the second half of 2012, with a $61 million investment. This will add 685 jobs, 91 of which are salaried.

UAW President Bob King said the return of assembly work at the plant for the first time since 2009 was an example of the cooperation between the union and automakers. King said he would highlight the expansion of work at Spring Hill as he continues attempts to organize nonunion Japanese, German and South Korean auto plants located mainly in the U.S. South.

"Spring Hill has a history as one of GM's most innovative and flexible plants," said Cathy Clegg, head of labor relations for the No. 1 U.S. automaker.

Broad outlines of plans for the expanded work were announced in September when GM and the UAW reached a four-year labor deal. A hallmark of that agreement was new work at several plants, including Spring Hill, instead of raises for veteran union auto workers.

The second phase of the Spring Hill plant's expansion will be the addition of a yet-unnamed midsize vehicle by 2014 for the 2015 model year, GM said. It will hire some 1,196 workers who will begin work in 2013 for that product.

GM said it would invest $183 million for that product at Spring Hill.

Of the total of 1,881 jobs to be filled at the Tennessee plant, 1,684 will be UAW-represented workers.

The nearly 400 workers GM has on layoff will get the first chance to fill the Spring Hill jobs and new posts opening at its Wentzville, Missouri, plant, said company spokeswoman Kimberly Carpenter.

The new hires will receive hourly pay of nearly $16, compared with about $29 for veteran assembly workers. The second-tier pay is to rise to about $19 per hour over the four years of the labor deal.

GM first signaled in January 2010 that Spring Hill might reopen as an assembly plant, but it was not until this summer's labor negotiations with the UAW that the plans were announced.

Spring Hill was put on "idled" status in 2009 when GM shut 14 plants as it went through bankruptcy. It lost its assembly line production that year, but remained open mainly as an engine plant, and employed about 1,000 workers.

In its heyday as the center of production for the Saturn brand of cars and SUVs, the Spring Hill plant employed more than 8,000 workers.

GM uses two Ontario plants to make Equinox. Both are running three shifts.

Demand for the crossover Equinox is the reason for the expansion at Spring Hill, GM and UAW officials said.

Through October, GM had sold 163,200 Equinoxes in the United States, up 45 percent from a year earlier.