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UAW official sees callback of laid-off GM workers; No confirmation from automaker

A United Auto Workers leader says General Motors will recall its remaining 2,000 laid-off workers by fall, but the automaker is not confirming that timeline.

Detroit newspapers reported that Joseph Ashton, a UAW vice president, said at a union meeting this week that "those people will be back at work in September." He was referring to the roughly 2,000 UAW-represented workers at GM presently on layoff.

GM's Town of Tonawanda engine plant has nearly 200 workers on layoff. The figure includes 59 placed on temporary layoff this week, in a ripple effect from the Japan earthquake and tsunami. A GM truck plant in Louisiana that uses engines produced at the Tonawanda site has been temporarily shut down, due to a lack of parts the Louisiana plant receives from Japan.

GM also has a components plant in Lockport that was formerly part of Delphi Corp. A layoff figure for that plant could not be obtained Thursday.

Ashton was director of Amherst-based UAW Region 9, before he was elevated to his current position last June. He spoke this week at a three-day UAW bargaining convention in Detroit, as the union prepares for contract talks with GM, Ford and Chrysler. The contracts expire in mid-September.

GM did not confirm the specific timeline laid out by Ashton.

"We can't predict timing, but we have made several recent announcements that will bring people back to work, including adding shifts at Lansing Grand River and Flint Assembly, as well as our efforts to staff Orion Assembly," said Kim Carpenter, a GM spokeswoman, referring to three Michigan plants.

Mary Ann Brown, a spokeswoman for GM's Tonawanda plant, said the Tonawanda site is not scheduled to bring back all of its laid-off workers until next year, when two new engine lines will go into production.

Local UAW officials could not be reached to comment on Ashton's remarks.

Bringing back all the laid-off workers would be a significant milestone. Under contract terms, GM can start hiring workers at about half the traditional pay rate once all laid-off employees are called back.

Arthur Wheaton, an automotive industry expert at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations in Buffalo, described Ashton's remarks about calling back the laid-off workers as a good bargaining strategy.

"You're getting it out on the table now," letting workers know that a plan to recall employees is in the works, Wheaton said.

It also could help win members' support for a tentative agreement when that time comes, by signaling to them that their leaders have taken care of the laid-off workers, Wheaton said.

Ashton's remarks should also been seen as good news for GM, an indication that the automaker is gaining strength, Wheaton said.

"Its not bad news for the company to say, 'Hey, we're doing better, we can bring these people back,' " he said.

GM and the UAW are gearing up for talks as the automaker shows signs of improvement after going through bankruptcy in 2009. One factor that will make these negotiations different: The UAW has agreed not to strike GM before 2015.

If all of GM's workers at the Tonawanda plant are called back and there are still jobs to fill, laid-off workers from other GM plants would have the first chance to take those positions. After that, GM could fill any additional positions with workers hired at the second-tier wage rate.

Layoffs at the GM Tonawanda plant spiked in 2009 as the site phased out two engine lines. But as GM production and sales picked up, some workers were called back last year.


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