May 21, 2010 / 3:24 PM / 10 years ago

UAW presses Toyota, Tesla to hire union workers

* UAW calls Tesla-Toyota tie-up “welcome news”

* UAW chief urges venture to hire back UAW workers

DETROIT, May 21 (Reuters) - The United Auto Workers union urged Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and electric car start-up Tesla Motors to hire union workers when they reopen a recently closed plant near San Francisco.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said the news that Toyota and Tesla would tie up to build an electric vehicle at a Fremont, California, plant formerly operated by Toyota and General Motors [GM.UL] was “welcome news.”

Toyota and Tesla announced on Thursday that they would cooperate in developing electric cars, parts and production. Separately, Tesla will take over the the New United Motor Manufacturing plant — widely known by its acronym NUMMI.

As part of the partnership, Toyota is investing $50 million in Tesla, which makes a $109,000 battery-powered Roadster and is planning a mass-market electric car.

“Our union’s hope is that this venture will give first hiring preference to former NUMMI employees who are already trained and highly skilled,” Gettelfinger said in a statement.

GM dropped its stake in the plant as part of its 2009 bankruptcy.

In a move the union and California politicians had attempted to block, Toyota closed the 25-year-old joint-venture plant on April 1 after concluding that it was not economical to keep it running.

The plant, which built Toyota’s Corolla and Tacoma vehicles and the Pontiac Vibe for GM, had employed about 4,500 workers represented by the UAW.

NUMMI was the only Toyota plant in the United States with union representation.

It was the first time Toyota had closed a facility in the United States. The closure came at a time when the automaker was under fire for its handling of a series of costly safety recalls. (Reporting by Kevin Krolicki; editing by John Wallace)

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