GM to cut a shift at Orion Assembly

Michael Martinez and Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. on Friday said it would cut one of two shifts at its Orion Assembly Plant in Orion Township amid sluggish sales of the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano small cars.

The Detroit automaker told employees Friday morning it would end the second shift effective in January to “adjust plant production capacity to align with market demand.” The shift reduction will affect about 500 hourly workers, a majority of which will be shifted to the automaker’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, GM spokesman Bill Grotz said.

“We are confident we will be able to make transfer offers to Detroit-Hamtramck or other GM locations for the vast majority of those who are affected by the shift reduction,” Grotz said in a statement.

The Orion employment reduction announcement comes a day after GM announced Thursday it is adding a second shift in early 2016 at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant and more than 1,200 jobs.

“This was absolutely a difficult decision for the corporate planning team and our local leadership to make,” said Doug Hanly, plant manager, in a letter delivered Friday to employees and obtained by The News. “We are facing the realities of sales volumes for our Chevrolet Sonics and Buick Veranos in a market that continues to shift heavily towards trucks and crossovers ... Let me assure you, the unfortunate decision to operate on one shift is purely driven by the market demand of our current products.”

Sales of the subcompact Sonic are down 35 percent year-to-date while sales of the small Verano have fallen 27.2 percent, Hanly said.

The Orion plant has been on shaky ground in the past. It was idled as part of GM’s 2009 bankruptcy and initially scheduled to close following GM’s restructuring. But it reopened in 2010 after the UAW agreed to significant labor concessions that include requiring 40 percent of hourly workers earn entry-level wages. The company also in the past year has made two layoff announcements of a few hundred workers to help trim production to meet demand.

The remaining shift at Orion will increase its line speed to maximize its full capacity, GM said. The plant has about 1,553 hourly workers and 183 salaried employees.

“It's very unfortunate we’re losing a bunch of great workers, great people who are going to be gone awhile,” UAW Local 5960 President Louis Rocha said. The local represents hourly workers at Orion Assembly.

Rocha said he hopes the workers can move to Detroit-Hamtramck. He said he is confident the plant will rebound and will again be at least a two-shift operation.

“We’ve shown them, and have proven to them, we can be very successful in building a small car,” he said.

Since 2010, GM has invested $962 million in Orion Assembly, including $405 million in the past year for the Chevrolet Bolt EV which has at least 200 miles of electric range and another new GM vehicle to be named later. GM in June said it would add 300 jobs to launch that vehicle it did not name, nor the timing.

The Bolt will be built at Orion beginning in late 2016. The company is spending $160 million to upgrade the plant. GM showed the Bolt concept, a hatchback with seating for five, earlier this year during the North American International Auto Show.

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