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GM Corp. To Close Buick City Plant

November 21, 1997 GMT

FLINT, Mich. (AP) _ General Motors Corp. is closing its Buick LeSabre and Pontiac Bonneville factory, affecting about a third of the 9,500 workers at its vast Buick City complex here and bringing more job uncertainty to GM’s hometown.

The automaker said the 94-year-old assembly plant will close in 1999 and that the company will begin building a new engine factory in the Flint area next spring.

Most of the roughly 3,000 Buick City hourly employees will get a chance to work at other GM operations, the company said, although it didn’t have an estimate of how many would be retained.

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Analysts and industry observers have expected the closing for months, but union leaders were angry.

``Closing this facility is a betrayal of GM’s work force, of the community and of the country, especially in light of GM’s huge profits,″ said United Auto Workers president Stephen Yokich.

GM officials said the final decision was made Friday, and the company wanted to end speculation that a new model would be built there beyond 1999.

Workers were told of the closing Friday afternoon. Some said they weren’t surprised.

``Most of the people here have 20 to 25 years with the company,″ said Karl Freeman, a 25-year employee. ``Most will probably work at other plants.″ GM said it expects many employees will be eligible to retire by the time the plant closes.

``I figured this is pretty much what would happen,″ said Curt Whitlock, a 20-year employee. ``If we had a more modern facility, I think we’d have work here.″

The new engine plant will employ some 400 workers, including several hundred of the 1,900 employees at a Flint V-8 engine factory slated to close in 1999 or 2000. Investment in the new engine plant could exceed $500 million, GM said in a news release.

The automaker said it decided it would need only two full-size car assembly plants _ in Lake Orion, Mich. and Hamtramck, Mich. GM hasn’t decided yet whether to continue production of the LeSabre or Bonneville after 1999.

GM was founded in Flint in 1908 and thrived there for decades, employing about 75,000 people in the area during the 1970s. The No. 1 automaker has cut more than half of those jobs since the 1970s and today employs about 35,000 people at 18 plants and offices in the Flint area.

The Buick City complex, which includes operations other than the assembly plant, employs 9,500 people, down from about 26,300 at its peak in the 1980s.

Still, the Flint-area remains the largest concentration of GM employees in the country. A GM parts plant and metal fabrication plant in the Flint employ 3,800 and 3,300, respectively.

Staffing in Flint has been a sensitive subject for the company, especially since the 1989 film ``Roger & Me″ by Flint native Michael Moore. The film was a darkly humorous look at the effects of thousands of layoffs and of Moore’s efforts to interview GM’s chief executive at the time, Roger Smith.

While it has cut thousands of jobs in the area, GM also has taken steps this year to bolster Flint, 60 miles northwest of Detroit.

The automaker said it would move its Metal Fabricating Division headquarters and 1,000 employees from the Detroit suburb of Troy to Flint in early 2000.

That transfer will help offset the loss of about 2,050 workers at GM’s Midsize and Luxury Car Group in Flint. GM announced earlier that it plans to consolidate that unit’s offices in Warren, outside Detroit.

Other work will be transferred to the Flint area as well.

The United Auto Workers union had in recent months waged a campaign aimed at Buick City’s survival. The local branch bought a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 3 pointing out that sales of the Buick LeSabre were up 21 percent in August over the same month a year ago.

``General Motors should pay attention to the market and keep the Buick Complex in Flint, Michigan working for them,″ the ad said.

GM has an hourly work force of about 222,000 people but has cut about 82,000 jobs since 1991.

The automaker disclosed earlier this month that it will take a charge to its earnings of $2 billion to $3 billion this year or early next year partly because of plant closures.