November 21, 2011 / 4:16 PM / 7 years ago

GM, UAW tout expanded work at Tennessee auto plant

SPRING HILL, Tennessee (Reuters) - General Motors Co (GM.N) and the United Auto Workers announced details of expanded work on Monday at the former Saturn plant in Tennessee that will create nearly 1,900 jobs by 2014.

GM said it will begin making the small sports-utility vehicle, known as a crossover, the Chevrolet Equinox at Spring Hill in the second half of 2012, with a $61 million investment.

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 deal 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 for the 2015 model year, GM said. Some 1,196 workers will be hired and begin work in 2013 for that product, said GM.

GM said its investment for that product at Spring Hill will be $183 million.

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

GM has just under 400 workers on layoff presently, and those workers will be given first chance to fill the Spring Hill jobs and new posts opening at its Wentzville, Missouri plant, said Kimberly Carpenter, GM spokeswoman.

The new hires will be paid nearly $16 per hour, compared to about $29 per hour 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 that the Spring Hill plant may reopen as an assembly plant in January 2010, 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.

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

The Saturn plant lost its assembly line production in 2009, but remained open mainly as an engine plant, and employed about 1,000 workers.

Equinox bodies are produced at a GM plant in Ingersoll, Ontario and assembled at its plant in Oshawa, Ontario. Both plants 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 Equinox in the U.S. market, up 45 percent from the year before.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall

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