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GM, UAW boost region Announcement of major investment stabilizes jobs, brightens plant future

There was a palpable sigh of relief across the region this week as General Motors Corp. announced a $300 million engine-line investment in its Town of Tonawanda plant. The infusion into the local economy is bankable for the near term, at least, and the line will provide job security for plant workers.

Against the backdrop of auto industry job losses across the country, GM's announcement that it will produce its most advanced eight-cylinder engine at Tonawanda for future luxury cars is all the more significant.

American automakers are facing an increased push by Asian competitors in the American market. While the Tonawanda plant will not see jobs added to its current 1,860-person work force, at least none will be lost as other, older engine lines are phased out. The line will replace a five-cylinder engine that is moving to Flint, Mich., another city of diminishing jobs.

Make no mistake, the new V-8 engine isn't a long-term panacea in an era in which interest is shifting to hybrid engines and alternative fuels. But its production here offers hope of survivability, with the new motor set to go into production in 2008 for use in 2010 model vehicles.

A great deal of credit goes to the union-management partnerships forged at the local plant. United Auto Workers deserves praise for recognizing a dire situation, and the longer-term benefits to union members that would flow from a union contribution of expertise, cooperation and leadership to such partnerships.

As News reporter Fred O. Williams noted, the site's employment base already has declined by about 2,300 jobs, or more than half, in the context of automation and cost-cutting. Nonetheless, productivity remains a key to plant survival and members approved changes in the plant's work rules to reduce break periods. Other unions have declined to face that challenge, even when faced with the likelihood of lost jobs and wages.

Taxpayers also deserve credit for this GM investment. The Erie County Industrial Development Agency's approval of an $8 million reduction in the plant's tax bill, in return for the engine line, was vital. So was New York Power Authority agreement to consolidate the engine plant's job commitments for hydropower.

Indeed, as County Executive Joel A. Giambra pointed out in his reference to Toyota's construction of a new assembly plant in Woodstock, Ont., competition is more difficult when other plants exist in areas where government is carrying health care costs. Increases in plant efficiency help meet that competition, but often also translate into lost jobs and lower wages. This announcement proves that at the Tonawanda Powertrain plant, efficiencies have triggered change instead of loss. That's a win-win scenario and a plus for the future -- and that, in turn, is well worth celebrating.

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