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Japan's crisis leads to layoff of 59 at GM engine plant; Parts shortage affects other sites

General Motors is placing 59 workers at its Town of Tonawanda engine plant on temporary layoff, an indirect effect of a shortage of parts shipped from Japan.

The workers, representing about 9 percent of the plant's active hourly work force, will begin their layoffs Monday, said Mary Ann Brown, a plant spokeswoman.

The layoffs stem from disruptions caused by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last week.

A GM plant in Shreveport, La., one of the locations to which the Tonawanda operation sends engines, will suspend production next week because of a shortage of parts from Japan. The Louisiana plant, which makes GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado pickup trucks, has not specified the parts.

The 59 employees at the Tonawanda plant work on the in-line 4- and 5-cylinder engine line. How long they will remain on layoff was not clear. GM does not know how soon the Louisiana plant will resume production. "We will certainly call them back as quickly as possible," Brown said.

Workers represented by the United Auto Workers union are eligible to collect 70 percent to75 percent of their pay while on layoff, through a combination of state unemployment benefits and supplemental unemployment benefits from the company, according to GM.

Some other workers from the affected engine line were shifted to the plant's L-850 engine line instead of being laid off.

The plant's 623 active hourly workers include the 59 going on layoff next week. As of Friday, the plant already had 138 workers on layoff for other reasons.

Robert Coleman, shop chairman for Local 774, United Auto Workers, could not be reached to comment.

GM says it intends to resume production of the trucks in Louisiana as soon as possible and has about a 70-day supply of both models.

The Tonawanda plant, meanwhile, is working toward installing two new engine lines, announced last year and expected to go into operation next year, boosting the job count.

GM's components plant in Lockport has not been affected by supply issues from Japan, said Kim Carpenter, a GM spokeswoman.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com