UAW’s video inside Kokomo plant blasts GM downsizing


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Jun 19, 2023

UAW’s video inside Kokomo plant blasts GM downsizing

Continuing an aggressive lead-up to contract bargaining, the UAW on Monday

Continuing an aggressive lead-up to contract bargaining, the UAW on Monday released a video of its leaders touring the General Motors Component Holdings plant in Kokomo, Indiana, where workers describe a "black cloud" hanging overhead as thousands of jobs have disappeared from the facility over the years.

In the video filmed May 11 and posted online on YouTube, new UAW President Shawn Fain, a Kokomo native, says, "On Dec. 9, 2017, the last semiconductor was shipped out of the fab (fabrication shop) here. We made semiconductors here from the 1950s forward and it's a shame to think that GM chose to close this place, shut down the fab where we make semiconductors in late 2017, and you know what the rest of that story's been."

The video then recaps the global shortage of semiconductor chip parts that swept over the auto industry during the pandemic, creating new-car inventory shortages in 2020 and 2021. It also shows Fain walking through vast spaces of empty factory floor where production equipment once hummed, as he notes there is 2.5 million square feet of floor space and "over 2 million of that square footage is empty." He says the workforce, which included many of his family members, used to be about 15,000 people and now is about 100.

"It's just a hallow shell, nothing left," Fain says on camera. Then a union member who works at the plant explains how "we used to have all three of these lines running ... .now we’re just down to one line and one shift."

"This is just another example in a long line of failings of GM and the Big Three companies and how little they care for the workers and the communities we live in." Fain says in the video. "These workers want to be here. They’re proud of these jobs. They’re standing here hanging in the balance now waiting to see what's left for them in the future."

GM spokesman David Barnas could not confirm Fain's claim that in December 2017 GM shipped out the last semiconductors. But Barnas told the Free Press the Kokomo plant is not closed and, "We’ve made no announcement and the plant continues to run their regular production schedule."

In response to the idea that GM could still be making semiconductor chips at the facility, Barnas said, "The business environment of semiconductor manufacturing is complex, very competitive, capital intensive and vastly different than that of the past. Our company doesn't possess the engineering, manufacturing expertise, facilities nor technology capability to do this capital intensive type of work. All this expertise would be necessary to be competitive in this category of advanced semiconductors production."

As an example of the cost, Samsung is spending $17 billion to build a semiconductor factory in Texas and Intel said it is spending $40 billion on chip facilities in Arizona, Ohio and New Mexico. Locally, metro Detroit auto parts supplier Bosch said last year it will invest nearly $300 million to extend semiconductor production in its facility in Reutlingen, Germany, starting in 2025.

Currently, GM makes a variety of electronic components for its engines, transmissions and air bag sensors for its vehicles at the Kokomo facility, where 169 people work, according to GM's website.

The video is yet another aggressive move by the new UAW leadership as it prepares to fire up the workforce and gain support ahead of contract talks. Fain, who was narrowly elected in the first-ever member direct election earlier this year, held a town hall last week urging UAW local leaders to get organized.

In a promise to be more transparent with members than the previous union administration, Fain has held other nationally broadcast addresses to union members of the Detroit Three automakers in recent weeks to outline the UAW's bargaining goals and strategy when talks start later this summer.

The three-minute video is slickly produced with dramatic music underscoring Fain's conversations with workers and his narration. In it, Fain tours the plant explaining how, "This place changed my family's life. My grandma and grandpa Carter hired in here back in the 1940s. This was the home of the first transistor radio. This place, Delco Electronics back at the time, made all the radios that went in all the GM cars. It's a shame to see where it is today."

One union member says she has worked there 17 years, another says his mother started in the plant in 1963. Another tells Fain and UAW Vice President for the GM Department Mike Booth that, "It just seems like there's been a black cloud over this place. I’d sure like to see that black could pushed away."

"Damn right," Fain says as Booth adds: "We’ll see if we can't get a windstorm going"

Fain has repeatedly emphasized the large profits the automakers have made in recent years. The video reinforces the union's push for automakers to reinvest those profits into the workforce. It comes out the same day that GM announced it will invest $1 billion in its Flint Assembly and Flint Metal Center to build the next generation heavy-duty pickups.

"We gotta get back in the fight," Fain says at the end of the video. "This is what we’re doing. We’re coming out there meeting our members face-to-face and getting prepared for bargaining."

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Contact Jamie L. LaReau: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter. Become a subscriber.

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